UK dominates KState in last exhibition tuneup

Michigan State looms in Tuesday's season opener

The always youthful Kentucky Wildcats got their last tuneup of the exhibition season with the #1 versus #2 matchup on Tuesday looms. The Wildcats dominated Kentucky State 83-51 with Dontaie Allen and Nick Richards sidelined.

Coach John Calipari tinkered with the starting lineup with Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Kahilli Whitney, Nate Sestina and EJ Montgomery taking the floor first.

Whitney went scoreless against Georgetown but the freshmen got the Cats on the scoreboard first with an old-fashion three-point play. His 15 points led Kentucky in scoring with Immanuel Quickley matching the total.

“It was my confidence. I went to the gym after the first game. The first game I was 0-5, so I had to get back in the gym.  Other than that, just playing hard at all the times, I took a lot of plays off the first game and I had to keep my foot on the gas at all times today,” said Whitney.

"He comes back and has five rebounds, 15 points. He was involved in the game much more tonight. I think that's what Cal has really got after him, to be a guy that's involved on the ball, off the ball, rebounding, deflections, he's such a live body and he should be a guy that's a tremendous two-way player and then he makes shots. So that comes as a byproduct of being involved in the game, being a guy who is trying to kind of impose his will both ends of the floor. I think that you can expect that out of Kahlil," said Assistant Coach Joel Justus who spoke to the media after the game.

Sestina and Whitney each had 11 points with identical five for six shooting performances in the first half.

Quickley supplied a scoring punch off the bench on five of nine shooting, two of five from behind the arc, with three assists.

Kentucky's defense is expected to be outstanding this year and they held Kentucky State to 14 of 54 shooting for 25.9 percent. The Wildcats held Georgetown to 25 percent on Sunday. They also forced 22 turnovers and converted that into a 30-10 advantage in points off turnovers. Even without Richards, they won the rebounding battle 43-33.

Offensively, sharing the ball was the mantra throughout the game with 25 assists on its 34 made baskets. Their outstanding sophomore point guard, Hagans, led the way with nine assists and added three steals with only two turnovers. Maxey had five assists as he filled the stat line with seven points, three steals and five rebounds.

Justus, though, sees Hagans can provide more for the team. "He's playing hard, he's putting pressure on the ball, he's flying the ball up the floor. Now we have got to get him to be the same as Nate in that he's grabbing people, he's pulling people and taking them with him. He should be a guy that is challenging guys to play as hard as he plays, to be in the right places, to execute. So you're happy with his individual performance, but if we're going to be who we hopefully can be, he's going to be a big reason by grabbing other people and dragging other people, and that's who he's going to be at the next level. He's going to have to be a guy that makes people uncomfortable and then they get better because of guys like him."

Johnny Juzang has the reputation as an outstanding shooter and he showed that on three of five shots behind the arc.

"“It was awesome to contribute to the team and bring some energy. It was awesome. It was a fun environment to play in,” said Juzang.

The one concern for the Wildcats is the slow start by Montgomery.

I think EJ is trying to figure things out, just like a lot of these guys are. Everyone has a little bit of a different role in their first season, the second season, third and fourth. I think what Cal and our staff is trying to do is put him in positions to where he feels the most comfortable, where we can put him in a place that where he is most effective. So I think that that's a process. And I think EJ's doing everything that he can in practice and on his own. And sometimes the ball bounces your way, especially early, you're playing with new teammates, you're playing against teams that are keying in on him. So I think this is an opportunity for him to keep getting better. Like I said earlier, we just want to see where we are today, and I think he did some good things, he's gotten better, I think, and next thing is we'll see on Tuesday night," said Justus about a key player for the Wildcats.

The Cats take on Michigan State at 9:30 on Tuesday, November 5 in New York. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

“I expect everything from that game. It will probably be the biggest game of the year for both of us. So we just have to go into that game focused and try to get the job done. Those guys are big like we are. So it’s really going to be who is mentally the strongest, as well as physically. We have to work hard, stay humble and not get big headed going into that game. Like I said they’re the number one team in the country. A final four team, we have to go in and be physical,” said Whitney.