Kentucky wins foreign exhibition opener as perimeter shooting struggles emerge

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Kentucky opened its foreign exhibition tour by cruising past the Bahamas National Team with an 85-61 victory on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats, making their first foreign trip since the 2015 Final Four team that started 38-0, looked impressive in transition situations as they raced out to an early lead and never looked back. But, despite the solid double-digit win, Kentucky also has something to watch for going forward, as last season’s perimeter shooting woes continued to begin the 2018-19 campaign.

After shooting 35 percent as a team from three-point range last season, Kentucky started its foreign trip with an abysmal 2-for-20 performance from distance as they couldn’t seem to get anything going. It should be noted that there could be some first-game jitters. It’s only an exhibition. New teammates are playing together for the first time. Shooting standout Jemeral Baker also sat out Wednesday’s game as he continues to deal with injury.

Despite all of those factors, the questionable perimeter shooting is still a troubling sign for a Kentucky team that desperately needs some floor spacing around its talented frontcourt players. Sophomore point guard Quade Green, in particular, struggled to a 1-for-11 shooting night and an 0-for-6 night from three-point range as he’ll likely fare much better going forward.

On the positive side (of which there is much, much more), sophomore big man Nick Richards looks like he’s improved a lot since last season as he played with much more assertiveness on the offensive end. Richards finished with a team-high 19 points and two blocks while frontcourt running mates P.J. Washington (10 points) and Reid Travis (four points, 14 rebounds) also contributed. Travis looked a bit disjointed at times, but he still crashed the glass and looked effective doing the little things.

Freshmen Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson also looked solid scorers for Kentucky as they tallied 16 and 11 points, respectively, on some smooth-looking plays. Guard Ashton Hagans, another freshman, earned some solid praise for his defensive efforts, as he should be a key energy guy for the Wildcats this season.

Kentucky still has three more exhibition games to go on this tour as perimeter shooting is going to be the key development to watch for — besides for individual growth among specific players. If the Wildcats can’t generate consistent perimeter offense, then it’s going to be tough to get guys like Richards, Travis and Washington opportunities on the interior.