Kentucky figured out its defense in the second half and used a barrage of three-pointers on offense as the No. 8 Wildcats were able to outlast Virginia Tech for a 93-86 non-conference win on Saturday afternoon.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game.
1. Kentucky is really dangerous if the three-ball is dropping
Kentucky isn’t a terrible three-point shooting team. They just don’t shoot very many of them.
That changed on Saturday as the Wildcats went 11-for-22 from the three-point line in the win over Virginia Tech. To put that number in perspective, Kentucky was averaging 4.6 made three-pointers per game coming into this one. The Wildcats prefer to work the ball inside or attack the basket, hoping to crash the offensive glass if the first shot doesn’t go.
But with the three-pointer working for them on Saturday? Kentucky looked really tough on the offensive end, especially since Virginia Tech’s offense was rolling in the first 20 minutes and the Wildcats needed the three-ball to answer.
I don’t expect Kentucky to shoot nearly this well in many games this season, especially away from home. Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo was 4-for-7 from three-point range. This preseason, Diallo was getting benched by head coach John Calipari when he even attempted a triple. In other words, his performance was an outlier and Kentucky’s team performance probably was as well.
If the Wildcats are shooting like this, however, good luck stopping what they are trying to accomplish on the offensive end.
2. Even in a loss, Virginia Tech looked legitimate
One of the things I’ve harped on with Virginia Tech is the brutal non-conference schedule the Hokies have played. Starting 9-1 looks promising until you realize the best wins came over Iowa and Ole Miss and the loss came against Saint Louis.
But even though they ultimately fell at Rupp Arena, Virginia Tech looked like they’ll be a factor in the ACC this season. The first half, in particular, was very impressive for the Hokies as they shot 62 percent from the floor and withstood a barrage of Kentucky three-pointers to take a lead into the break. Kentucky made double the amount of three-pointers they usually make and the Hokies were still in this game until the very end.
Obviously, Virginia Tech still has work to do to be a contender in the ACC. They don’t have a ton of size to hang with some of the bigger teams in the country, which could be problematic against conference opponents like Duke. The Hokies also had some problems with turnovers as Kentucky’s 2-2-1 pressure really caused some issues for certain stretches. Virginia Tech had 19 turnovers on Saturday when they’ve averaged 13 on the season.
Not accustomed to facing teams like Kentucky, the Hokies were bothered at times by the length and athleticism of the Wildcats.
Here’s the thing though: would you want to face a veteran Buzz Williams team that doesn’t seem intimidated by anybody? Me neither. The Hokies won’t be a fun team to play in March.
3. Kentucky needs to focus more on Kevin Knox
To start the second half, Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox (21 points) was simply unstoppable. Scoring 11 points in a four-minute burst, Knox scored through contact, knocked down a three-pointer and also made a tough mid-range look.
And then Kentucky’s offense went away from him as lesser players tried to score using one-on-one moves.
The Wildcat offense went stagnant for a stretch before Diallo and Quade Green continued to shoot the ball well. It was puzzling to see their offense work during certain stretches. Kentucky obviously has tons of elite, five-star talent and they have to share the ball and some shots. But Knox wasn’t even getting touches after he made scoring look easy during the early part of the second half.
Since Knox has a tendency to float away from the basket and not demand the ball during stretches of play, Kentucky needs to make sure that they keep their biggest offensive threat engaged at all times. Thankfully in this game, players like Diallo and Green stepped up in the scoring column. But there is going to be a time when Kentucky needs Knox as a go-to scorer. They have to make sure to keep Knox fully engaged.