Kentucky learns another lesson ahead of showdown against Kansas

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Kentucky coach John Calipari yells instructions to his team during a win over Vermont Sunday at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats take on Kansas Tuesday in Chicago. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

John Calipari has more of an idea what to expect from Kentucky after the Wildcats defeated their first two opponents in a pair of closer-than-expected contests over the weekend.

Kentucky held off a late surge from Vermont and escaped with a 73-69 victory over the Catamounts Sunday. In what served as a final tuneup for a much-anticipated showdown with No. 4 Kansas in the Champions Classic Tuesday in Chicago, Calipari admitted he wanted to beat Vermont by a larger margin, but he will take what he can get with a starting five comprised of all freshmen.

Prior to the win over Vermont, the Wildcats had to rally from double digits to hold off a Utah Valley team that suffered a 89-69 loss at top-ranked Duke Saturday, less than 24 hours after dropping a 73-63 setback the Wildcats in the season opener for both teams.

Kentucky missed seven of its last eight shots against the Catamounts, but one of those field goals — a clutch 3-pointer by Kevin Knox — gave the Wildcats enough of a cushion to sustain the lead down the stretch.

“That was big,” Calipari said of the trey by Knox. “What I did like is Kevin making that three. It shows that he has enough courage to make it.”

Calipari also singled out a late rebound by P.J.Washington as one of the top plays his team made down the stretch.

“P.J. Washington is a beast, finally,” Calipari said. “The game winner, P.J. grabbed (the rebound) with two hands.”

The Kentucky coach also liked the way Quade Green ran the team down the stretch. Green, making his first career start, finished with 15 points and had a career-high four assists. Green made some clutch free-throws in the closing minutes to preserve the victory.

“I kind of like Quade with his hands on the ball at the end to be honest,” Calipari said. “I thought he looked pretty good … he needs to be in the game at the end.”

The Kentucky coach also liked the way Sacha Killeya-Jones played throughout the encounter, a signal of his growth and maturity during the past year.

“Sacha making free throws was big,” he said. “Sacha played his butt off today. You just saw, the work that he’s put in. This is what he’s looking like in practice and now he’s carrying it over into the game. … His confidence is going to be demonstrated in his performance.”

Even though the game was closer than he wanted, Calipari said playing a team like Vermont, which won 29 games last season and lost to Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, served a purpose for his young squad.

“I (was) excited about this game because we learned about ourselves,” he said. “We learned about individuals, what they’re capable of and maybe what they’re not capable of.”

The biggest takeaway, was Kentucky’s defense, especially in the closing minutes.

“They made us play defense,” Washington said. “It showed us where we were and how many things we need to get better on.”

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Kansas at Champions Classic, Chicago, Tuesday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM, WBUL, Lexington.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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