UK men overcome another slow start with late run

Cats down Albany team coached by 'Bruiser's' close friend

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/AP/UK Athletics) — Another slow start and too many turnovers meant another frustrating early evening for the UK men’s basketball team before a late run fueled by more aggressive lay finally put the stubborn Albany Great Danes away at Rupp Arena (Click for game stats, flow chart uk vs. albany stats, game flow).

TyTy Washington Jr. scored 20 points for the second straight game, Keion Brooks Jr. added 17 points and No. 10 Kentucky beat Albany 86-61 on Monday night for its fourth consecutive victory. But it took a three-pointer from Kellan Grady with 8:50 left to put the Wildcats up by 20 and bring some breathing room.

The Wildcats (4-1) led throughout but played at a slower pace than usual in building a 46-35 advantage early in the second half. A few spurts, including an 8-0 run to make it 61-39 with 8:28 remaining, put the game out of reach.

Washington went 7 of 14 from the field and 2 of 3 on 3-pointers. Sahvir Wheeler scored 15 points, Kellan Grady made three 3s for 14 points and Oscar Tshiebwe had 14 rebounds and 12 points.

Kentucky shot 32 of 59 (54%), controlled the boards 48-24 and outscored Albany 36-28 in the paint to offset a season-high 17 turnovers.

De’Vondre Perry scored 18 points and Trey Hutcheson had 12 for the Great Danes (0-5), who shot 34% and made 6 of 13 from the foul line.

BIG PICTURE

Albany: The Great Danes’ physicality helped slow down Kentucky and allow them to stay within single digits for about 25 minutes. But they were no match once the Wildcats became more aggressive and picked up the pace. Getting to the line was a struggle, to say nothing of their problems making them.

Kentucky: The Wildcats cooled off a bit from 59% shooting in the first half but still were fairly consistent. Turnovers remain an issue as they committed at least 15 for the second consecutive game. Kentucky had just 13 assists on its 32 baskets.

The game was personal for UK Coach John Calipari and his assistant Bruiser Flint. Albany Coach Dwayne Killings has been long-time friends with Flint and the connection led to Killings being a ball ball at UMass when Calipari was coach there.

UP NEXT

Albany faces Eastern Illinois on Wednesday in the Eastern Kentucky Invitational.

Kentucky hosts North Florida on Friday night.

But the game also gave Calipari a chance to test and see his depth.

Calipari has said many times he likes to have his rotation include about seven or eight players. Calipari believes that formula is one that has been most effective for his teams through the years.

The hall of fame coach got his wish on Monday night, although it was not in the manner which he had hoped. The Wildcats beat Albany with a rotation of just eight players with the starting five doing most of the heavy lifting.

However, the reasons UK had just eight scholarship players were injuries and sickness. Kentucky is already without CJ Fredrick, who is out for the season after having surgery. Forwards Jacob Toppin and Lance Ware continue to nurse injuries and were out of action on this night. And guard Davion Mintz was not available on Monday due to illness.

That left the Cats with the regular starting five of Keion Brooks Jr.Kellan GradyOscar TshiebweTyTy Washington Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler. Off the bench, UK had Dontaie AllenDaimion Collins and Bryce Hopkins available.

Luckily for the Cats, the starting five came through on this night. All five starters scored in double figures, led by Washington’s 20 points, followed by 17 points and eight rebounds from Brooks. Wheeler had 15 points and seven assists, Grady had 14 points and Tshiebwe had 12 points and 14 rebounds.

That’s 78 points by the UK starters. The short bench mustered just eight points.

Calipari is fine with having a short bench, with one major exception.

“If someone doesn’t play well, you don’t have an option,” Calipari said after the game. “They’re not computers and they’re not robots.”

Ideally, the rotation would not be this short at this point in the season. Calipari would rather be tinkering with lineup options at this point in the season instead of wondering what the team looks like with certain players in the game.

“We’ve got to get healthy. We’ve got to get guys back. We still don’t know what we are,” Calipari said. “What happens when Lance comes back? What happens when Jacob comes back? Do we become different? How do we play? What are we trying to do?

Another factor that came into play on Monday was Tshiebwe being saddled with foul trouble. Calipari was asked how his team looked without him and it wasn’t a thought that the UK head man wanted to consider.

“I’d rather not see what we can do without him,” Calipari said. “When he’s on the court, we’re better. We’ve got to get him better around the goal.”

Despite the short bench, Calipari likes what he sees from his team. He hopes that the various parts can come together and benefit the whole very soon.

“Look, I like this team, and this team has a chance. And I’ve got to do my job and hold them accountable,” Calipari said (Click for full quotes calipari_quotes_112221). “I don’t care about the clutter. People can say what they want. I’ve got a job to do, and I’ve got to get this team right because we have some pieces that can do this.”

UK Player quotes:

#2, Sahvir Wheeler, Jr., Guard

 On if Albany outhustled them tonight …

“They play really hard as a team. I don’t think Coach Cal was too far off on that. They play really hard and they made us compete. We were only up nine at halftime. I believe that was it, and a lot of credit to them. Even when we made our run, and we were up 20, we can hear their coach coaching with passion and the players still believing they can win even though the game was already kind of decided. They played hard, and that just shows that we’ve got to play a little bit harder to be able to finish our plays so we can create those leads earlier in the game. Against better competition when were down, we might not be able to wait so late to play so hard in order to come up with wins.”

On the secret to getting to the rim and finishing …

“I can’t give away all my secrets. I think having an attack mentality, and playing with a team like this with great shooters, the lane is that much more open. I think one of my gifts is being able to create for others and get inside of the paint at will. Guys like TyTy [Washington], Kellan [Grady], Dontaie [Allen] – those guys are threats. We missed Davion [Mintz] tonight, but I think that’s a part of playing with guys who can make shots to spread the floor and using my advantages as my speed and my quickness. I’m at that point that if I’m by my defender, I’m playing two-on-one with either. It’s me, the rim, and the big man. Whether that’s Daimion, whether that’s Oscar [Tshiebwe], or whoever is down there playing the four, Keion [Brooks], it’s their man and me, and you know those guys.”

On the transition from Georgia to Kentucky …

“It hasn’t been a big thing for me. I think my game has always been fast paced – using my speed, using my advantages. But here everyone else can do it, too. I think that’s the beauty of it, when we have multiple playmakers and multiple guys who can get themselves shots and create for others. We’re a great team that shares the ball. We play for each other, there’s no ego, and we’re playing to win.”

 

#3, TyTy Washington, Fr., Guard

On playing 38 minutes against Albany … 

“It kind of just happened in the flow of the game. I didn’t know I played that many minutes. As long as I am in shape and as long as I keep running hard in practice, and just keep showing that I’m in shape, I can play full games like that and play well.”

On his shooting improvement each game … 

“I feel like I’m adjusting really well and just letting the game come to me, just getting out in transition. I feel like one of the good aspects of my game is just getting out, beating everybody on the floor, and making easy plays for me and my teammates. I feel like as we keep going, my condition is only going to get better, and this is going to help me and my team.”

On how important Kellan [Grady]’s performance in the second half was … 

“It was very important. Everybody knows Kellan’s background, scoring 2000 points so everybody in the arena knows he can get it going and just like a snap of a finger. The first half was a little quiet. I am kind of starting to pick up off him and just letting the game come to me. He never forces anything. He’s just always happy for his teammates, even when he’s not scoring anything like that. In the second half, after he hit the three, I told him, ‘Grandad,’ – I call him granddad – but I said, ‘KG, this is your time. They are not standing in front of it. Just get it, rip by, and get to the free throw line.’ I feel like you get to the free throw line, you see the ball go in from the free throw line, you’ll gain more confidence. And I feel like, in the second half, I am a rookie at best. So, I try to tell him as much as I can, but at the end of the day, he knows how to play basketball at a really high level. So, he just went out there and does what does.”

On how Kellan feels being called ‘granddad’ …

“He takes it really well. He always laughs. He knows he’s a granddad. He’s OG. I’m like the little brother. He’s always looking out.”

 

#31, Kellan Grady, Gr., Guard

On conservative shot selection …

“I think I have been a little bit. I think part of that is finding my role as one of the guys, but not the guy like I was accustomed to for four years. I think I have probably been conservative in picking my spots a little bit and letting the game come to me, which I think is a good thing. But I think there are sometimes where I could try to be more aggressive. That’s essentially what Cal has told me. He told me to get going before the game started. In the second half, he told me to shoot the ball and get going. That’s definitely what he wants me to do, and it’s on me to do it.”

On being older …

“Yeah, the whole team calls me ‘granddad.’ I thought that was public knowledge at this point. That’s being a grad transfer and they also tell me I am an old soul in some of my habits. I am a little bit different.”

On Davion Mintz being out …

“It was going through my head, I think perhaps naturally a little bit, but it wasn’t really something that was going through. I was just focused on the game plan.”

On what he is thankful for …

“I’m not sure there’s a short answer for that. I’m incredibly thankful to be at the University of Kentucky to play on a team that is just filled with great teammates and high-quality guys. Being able to play for a coach that’s invested in every player and wants to add value and help us win and know us on a more personal level. I’m thankful to have gotten a college degree and being able to come here and play. I am thankful for my family and my friends. I guess good health as well, though I take that for granted.”

 

Albany postgame comments:

Dwayne Killings, Albany Head Coach

Opening statement

“I’m proud of my guys. I’m proud of our team. I thought we competed our tails off. I thought we really grew from the last game. One of the things we talked about for our program was just being selfless in this game and just consuming themselves with this opportunity to play an unbelievable program. Kentucky has done some amazing things with what Coach Calipari has done with this program, and I thought our kids came in and they took advantage of the opportunity. We had some big moments. De’Vondre [Perry] did some really good things, Trey [Hutcheson] did some really good things, and what I was most proud of is I thought our culture really grew. But Kentucky’s a really good basketball team. You turn it over, they make you pay. The runs come at you really, really fast, but I thought it was a great test for our program. I thought we got better in the game and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I think it’s going to pay huge dividends for us as we move forward in our season.”

On how Oscar Tshiebwe in foul trouble played into the depth of the game…

“I was really concerned about the fatigue that would come into the game, but I thought our guys responded. We went pretty deep into our bench just to give our guys a breather. We tried to take guys out before media timeouts. I didn’t think that we necessarily got fatigued entirely through the course of the game, but you guys have so many different players that can impact the game in different ways. You have guys on the perimeter that can make shots like Kellan Grady. He just drilled shots around the perimeter, which is pretty impressive. But then you can get guys that can isolate you. You guys put pressure in the paint which makes it really challenging for your one-on-one defense and your team defense because it never stops. But I thought we were getting some momentum in the course of the game in the second half, but we didn’t stop the run. Once the run started against a program like this, it happens fast and can get away from you pretty quick.”

On how important Kellan Grady can be for the future of Kentucky basketball…

“I actually coached against them when I was at Marquette. We played them when he was at Davidson and he was impressive. He made timely shots and I thought he did that today. When you think about a kid like him, when you get deeper into your season and when you have guys that can stretch the floor and make shots – I mean, he made two big shots over the course of this game – if he can do that down the stretch, then it’s going to take the team to another level.”

 On what they’ll take away from this game heading into their next against Eastern Illinois…

“The schedule we put together is to give our guys confidence. We’ve played some really good basketball teams: LaSalle, Towson, Harvard. Harvard’s an unbelievable storied program. Eastern Kentucky is a really good program. Kentucky, obviously, is one of the best programs in the country. I think what our guys are learning is that we can play and compete with anybody. So, I’m hoping as we get deeper into our season, it’s going to give our team confidence and our individuals confidence because we’ve taken it to such a high level so quickly. I think we became a better team over the course of these last two games. We had some really hard conversations going into this game, just about who we are and what we’re trying to become. I think our guys responded, and then also just an opportunity to come out here for five or six days and be in a hotel together, being around each other all day, every day. It’s a chance to become a family and I think we took a really good step for our program today. It wasn’t the result we wanted, but we competed and we represented our program the right way.”

 On what it means to put up that performance in front of Bruiser Flint and John Calipari…

“You want to come in and compete, I know that much. I wasn’t trying to come in here and get embarrassed. But it’s great. I mean, I am going to be honest with you, the best part of the game for me is I can tell Coach Calipari was getting upset with these guys. That means our guys are competing and playing the right way, and that’s all I wanted. I wanted our guys to feel like they had a chance, and they did, and we gave them a run. We gave them all we had. That’s awesome. To come down after the game for Coach Cal and for Coach Flint to say they’re proud of what we’re doing, and that we’re doing it the right way. That means that we’re on our process and we’re heading in the right direction. And I thought it was pretty cool. I think people walk away from this place like, ‘The Albany men’s basketball team competes, and they play tough, and they’re aggressive,’ and I think they were impressed. That’s what we want to do. We want to play the right way.”

Albany Player Quotes

 #2, De’Vondre Perry, Gr., Forward

On how much mentality played a role in their game against Kentucky…

“I would say it’s huge for our team, just being mentally tough and physically tough. I’d say the mentality part is more so our program’s culture than anything.”

 On the differences between preparing for this game with their teammates versus what it was actually like…

“I would say the main difference was their limp in their speed. Coach pretty much preached that their pace was really fast.”

On what it’s like playing against Sahvir Wheeler who does not have size as an advantage…

“He’s pretty talented. He’s got amazing touch around the rim to be 5’9. I know he practices finishing over guys, especially finishing over length.”

 

#3, Trey Hutcheson, Jr., Guard

On how hard it was to play against Kentucky who has countless good players to substitute when others are tired or not playing well…

“When Oscar [Tshiebwe] came out, they brought in other guys, and it made an impact. I just thought they ran the floor really well. That kind of started when [Oscar] came out, but they have a lot of talented guys throughout their roster. When they brought in new guys, it was still a challenge for us and we had to step up to the challenge and embrace it.”

 On the differences between preparing for this game with their teammates versus what it was actually like…

“I’d agree with that, just the speed that they had once their rebounder took the ball and they got it down the floor. I think that’s just something that was a little more advanced than what we’ve seen.”

 

 

 

 

 

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