Photo by Keyli Chisesi (Go Big Blue Country)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari warned that this would be a bumpy ride and that things would take some time. However, fans expected Tuesday nights date with Kansas to be the Wildcats first test, not the season opener vs. Utah Valley.
The weather was cold outside Rupp Arena and some of that cooler air made its way inside, as the Wildcats couldn’t buy a bucket in the first half. Kentucky shot a frigid 21.9 percent from the floor and trailed the Wolverines 34-25 at the half.
Nick Richards paced the Wildcats in the first half with 8 points, as he was the only Wildcat that could buy a bucket early. The UK center finished with 10 points, three rebounds, three blocks, and a steal.
Kentucky was stone cold in the first half and ended the half missing their final 15 shot attempts. Thankfully, whatever the message was in the locker room, the players responded with a strong spurt to begin the second half.
Utah Valley scored the first three points of the second half before the Wildcats came storming back to take the lead. Kentucky used an 18-0 run in less than three minutes to take a 43-37 lead. The run provided just enough of a cushion to give the Wildcats a 73-63 season-opening win.
The biggest move of the game was when Calipari went to a zone prior to his teams 18-0 run. The UK head coach hates playing zone but give him credit, because Kentucky’s length changed the game, which led to multiple opportunities in transition.
Knox got the run started with a three-pointer from the left wing and followed it up with a two-handed flush. The UK freshman didn’t have his best shooting night but still managed to finish with 12 points, three rebounds, and four assists.
Freshman Hamidou Diallo also had a strong second half and played an important role in the Wildcats comeback, including a nasty left-handed windmill dunk that brought the Rupp Arena crowd to its feet. After shooting 2-of-8 in the first, he responded with 13-second-half points, knocking down 6-of-8 shots. He also added five rebounds and three assists.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was great and was a factor on both ends of the floor. He finished second on the team with 13 points, adding three rebounds and four assists.
Wenyen Gabriel was everything that Calipari needed him to be, coming off the bench to grab a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with 7 points. The sophomore forward struggled offensively; shooting 3-of-13 from the field but it was the impact he made with his energy.
Kentucky was tested on opening night but give them credit, they responded in the second half. After shooting below 30 percent in the first half, the Wildcats shot a scorching 59.4 percent after the break. Overall, Kentucky shot 40 percent from the floor, including 33 percent from three-point range. Despite being outrebounded 39-38, the young Wildcats battled in the second half.
PJ Washington five, Quade Green four, and Sacha Killeya-Jones four points round out the scoring for Kentucky. The Wildcats move to 1-0 on the season and will need to get some things figured out quickly. Kentucky will tipoff vs. Vermont at 3:30 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon.