Kevin Knox goes up for 2 of his game high 27 points in Friday’s 103-61 win. Knox shot 8-of-12 from the floor and 10-of-10 from the free throw line. (Photo by Keyli Chisesi, Go Big Blue Country)
When Kevin Knox pulled a shocker and committed to Kentucky last spring, everyone knew the five-star freshman would be an impact player for the Wildcats this season. However, he wasn’t expected to look this good, this soon. In an exhibition opening 103-61 victory vs. Thomas More on Friday, Knox paced Kentucky by leading all scorers with 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while converting on all ten free throw opportunities.
John Calipari knows the growing pains will be there and they were on full display at times tonight. The Wildcats are chalked full of athleticism and talent, but it will take time, even more than usual for this team to hit its stride.
The Wildcats are so young that for the first time since the 2014 National Championship game vs. UConn, Calipari rolled out an all-freshman starting five that included Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Nick Richards.
Early on, the Wildcats flashed how lethal they can be in transition, as the first basket of the year was a lob from Diallo to Knox. The tempo was pushed early and Green hit back-to-back threes to give Kentucky a 13-6 lead at the first media timeout. The freshman point guard connected on 3-of-5 shots from long range to finish with 9 points, including a game-high 7 assists.
The two teams exchanged runs, as Thomas More used an 11-2 run to cut a 15-point deficit to 23-17, forcing Calipari to call timeout. The Wildcats responded with a 15-0 run to take a 38-17 lead. Kentucky’s length defensively was too much, as the Saints went 10:57 without a field goal, missing on 15 consecutive shot attempts. Kentucky finished the half on a 30-13 run to take a 53-30 lead into the locker room.
The size was too much for Thomas More to overcome on both ends of the floor. Kentucky connected on 38-of-69 field goal attempts, good enough for 55 percent. Twelve of those made field goals were dunks, as six players finished with at least one dunk, led by Knox with five.
In addition to a strong performance from Knox, PJ Washington and Wenyen Gabriel added double-doubles. Washington finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Gabriel added 11 points and 10 boards. Freshman Nick Richards totaled 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, one block, and one steal.
Freshmen Hamdiou Diallo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander used their length to disrupt defensively. Diallo added 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and one block. Gilgeous-Alexander has the look of an on-ball stopper for the Wildcats and he stuffed the stat sheet on Friday, finishing with nine points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals, and one block.
The Wildcats smothered Thomas More, forcing 22 turnovers. The Saints connected on just 16 field goal attempts for 29.6 percent with half coming from three-point range. Kentucky nearly doubled up on the glass, as they outrebounded Thomas More 49-26. The Wildcats largest lead of the game was 42 points, which was the final score of 103-61.
Early observation is this team is loaded with talent but has a long way to go and thankfully, they have time to get there. Don’t judge this team until it is complete with Jarred Vanderbilt and Jemarl Baker, who Calipari added will miss extended time after undergoing surgery on an injury he suffered in early season practices.
The Wildcats return to action in a non-televised exhibition vs. Morehead State on Monday at 7 p.m. ET. The matchup is part of the Kentucky Cares Classic that will help raise funds for those affected by hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as wildfires in California. The game will not be televised. The only way to see it is to be in attendance.