By LARRY VAUGHT
Keldon Johnson hit five 3-pointers in the first half to let Kentucky overcome a 10-2 deficit to start the game to blitz Utah 88-61 Saturday in Rupp Arena.
Johnson finished with 24 points on 8-for-9 shooting, including 6-for-7 from 3-point range.
Coming into the game, Johnson was 8-for-25 from 3-point range and that included the half-court shot he hit to force overtime at Seton Hall.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said the plan was to keep Johnson from his strengths — getting to the rim and going to the foul line.
“We were willing to live with some of those 3’s. We were trying to play the numbers and it didn’t work out in our favor,” the Utah coach said. “You have to pick your poison about how you want to guard them. They have been pounding people on the glass.
“We had a pretty good plan but Johnson hitting five 3’s in the first half was a big story along with our mindless turnovers. We played zone pretty much the whole game and that’s what you are going to have to give up.”
Tyler Herro went 7-for-12 from the field, but just 2-for-6 from long range, to add 17 points for Kentucky while center Reid Travis, who didn’t get his first shot for almost 15 minutes, had 16 points.
“We knew if he gets the ball in the post it is going to get to the rim pretty quick,” Krystkowiak, who played against Travis when he was with Stanford, said.
Immanuel Quickley was the fourth Cat in double figures with 12 points and went 4-for-7 from the field with two assists.
“When he tries too hard, he gets tentative,” Calipari said. “As he sees more, he will just let loose.”
Kentucky went 12-for-21 from 3-point range and got 34 points off 18 Utah turnovers.
“I am telling you, this is one of the best 3-point shooting teams I have had but we are not going to shoot 30 3’s a game. That’s not how we do it,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “But we were willing passers, our spacing was better and they played zone. I didn’t think they would play that much zone but thank goodness we prepared some stuff for it.
Even if Jemarl Baker comes off the bench and hits two straight 3’s in less than two minutes at the end of the game?
“I forgot about him on the bench,” Calipari said — and that could be true because this was UK’s first game after Quade Green’s transfer and Calipari has to adjust the playing rotation.
The Utah coach said Kentucky’s pressure defense created enormous problems for his team.
“It’ hard to guard this team in transition. You can’t defend turnovers and the foul line,” Krystkowiak said.
Calipari said even though Nick Richards didn’t score, UK needs his defensive presence.
“I am telling you we need Nick so people don’t just think they can drive in and score,” Calipari said.