By LARRY VAUGHT
Maybe the declining attendance at Rupp Arena has more of an impact of University of Kentucky basketball players than what I realize.
That’s why UK coach John Calipari says and made it really clear in a message to season ticket holders Friday about how much their attendance was needed to help the team.
In the second half against Mount St. Mary’s Friday, UK got on a roll in the second half and that led to the most boisterous crowd reaction at Rupp Arena this season. Don’t believe me. Then let freshman Kahlil Whitney explain.
“I was on the bench and I saw it,” Whitney said. “I kind of looked up at the Jumbotron and I saw you had to make three 3’s for the chicken sandwich … but we had no clue, we just had to come out and play,” Whitney said.
What was more important, though, was that Kentucky played much better in the second half of the 82-62 win than it had since the opening win over Michigan State.
“I feel like we made great strides defensively, just knowing their personnel and trying to stop what they threw at us,” Whitney said. “Fighting over ball screens, being help-side and talking, I feel like communication is a big key for us and we want to really be special and communicate more, it’s a process and we will get there.”
Maybe the play improved because the return of Immanuel Quickley and EJ Montgomery again gave UK nine healthy scholarship players to use.
“We weren’t dying out there,” Whitney said. “It was great. We had great minutes from Quick off the bench, he made like three 3-pointers. EJ came off the bench and had some great minutes, made some shots, so were just getting there and getting back together.
“Immanuel is an electric scorer, he can shoot the ball, he can finish. He played great minutes off the bench and made a lot of 3-pointers.”
Calipari would be even happier if all his players grabbed offensive rebounds than he was to see some 3-point shots finally starting falling in the second half Friday.
“It starts in practice where we do all of the box out drills and defensive drills,” Whitney said. “It’s something we have to get better at, and we will get better at it.”