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Two Reasons the Sky’s Now the Limit for this Kentucky Basketball Team

By Dr. John Huang

For die-hard Kentucky Basketball fans, Reed Arena was previously known for one less-than-shining moment. If you remember, the home of the Texas A&M Basketball Aggies was the scene of the infamous Isaac Humphries’ spike. With nine seconds to go in an overtime game back in 2016, Humphries—who was celebrating a big rebound—was assessed an egregious technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct—a call which eventually cost Kentucky the game.

More than just another ordinary road win

After the 69-60 win tonight, all is forgiven and forgotten. Reed Arena will now forever be known as the venue in which No. 8-ranked Kentucky (23-5, 13-2 SEC) made a championship statement. Trust me, this was not business as usual. If this version of Calipari’s Cats goes on to hang a banner, their performance tonight in front of the REED ROWDIES will go down as a defining moment in their march to the title.

“The one thing we have is when you have three point guards on the floor at one time, you’ve got a chance if your big guys will go,” Calipari told the media afterwards. “And EJ (Montgomery) was outstanding. That’s as good as I’ve seen EJ play in a while. He really played good.”

Early season skepticism giving way

I’ll be the first to admit, I was very skeptical earlier in the year. After those demoralizing losses to Evansville and Utah, this team—more than previous Calipari teams—seemed to have a very low ceiling. They couldn’t shoot, lacked leadership, and played down to their competition. They squandered big leads, including a game in which they lost on a miracle half-court shot at the buzzer to South Carolina. Then Kahlil Whitney left the team, and with him a much-needed inside presence.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the top of the SEC leaderboard. This team started accumulating improbable wins on the road. The blip in Columbia was followed by victories at Arkansas and Texas Tech. After losing a wild one at Auburn, the Cats rebounded with three more wins at Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and LSU. Like all you other doubting Thomases, I’m starting to believe.

Defining moment for this team

Tonight’s win was a defining one for a couple of the following reasons.

Prior to this game, Coach Cal said EJ Montgomery was very close to achieving the vision of being the player he was destined to be. Tonight, he might have arrived. The 6’10 sophomore was a force inside, scoring 8 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, getting 2 steals, and blocking a shot. If EJ can play at this level, then the sky’s the limit for this team.

Immanuel Quickley has turned into Superman. All of a sudden, the game’s become so easy for him. The basket is the size of a volcano crater, he feels like he’s playing with anti-gravity shoes, and everybody else is moving in slow motion. When he goes for 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting (8-of-12 three-pointers), it’ll be hard for anyone to beat Kentucky.

Afterwards, someone accused Calipari of downplaying Quickley’s performance.

“No, I’m not—he had 30,” Calipari acknowledged. “It’s big. I love it. I don’t know what you want me to say. He made shots…Here’s what’s great about this team. When he walked in that locker room, they went nuts. They are cheering each other’s successes. That’s a good sign.”

Statement games are always good signs. Texas A&M may not be very good, but this is exactly the kind of road game Kentucky would have choked up in the past. Instead, the Cats shot 52.2% from the field, made a season high 11 three-pointers, 90.9% of their foul shots, won the rebounding battle 31-23, held A&M to 60 points, and walked out of Reed Arena with another solid win.

Kentucky has now won 15 out of their last 17 games and are 7-2 in true road games. They maintain their two-game lead in the SEC with just 3 regular season games left to play. With EJ surging and Immanuel on fire, I really like how the rest of the season’s shaping up.

“But let me say this,” Calipari cautioned. “I’m worried about my team. I’m just trying to get my guys across the finish line right now.”

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
http://www.huangswhinings.com

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