By LARRY VAUGHT
Coming into Friday night’s game in Rupp Arena, UAB coach Robert Eshan had one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams.
That changed against Kentucky.
“We only got eight offensive rebounds. When we did, I thought their length extremely bothered us. Maybe more mentally than anything,” Eshan said. “They didn’t block a whole lot of shots, but we missed and were hurried because of their length and athleticism.
“Playing the two big guys (Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery) together is something we hadn’t seen a whole lot of this year. When they did that, I mean they’re as big as obviously anyone in the country at the 4 and the 5.
“I thought protecting the rim is one of this team’s strengths. We told our guys, mentally calm down when you get in there and try to finish, but it’s hard when you have those guys coming at you.”
Kentucky pulled off 11 offensive rebounds and outrebounded UAB 39-28. Montgomery had 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting and eight rebounds while Richards went 7-for-7 from the field and finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Montgomery blocked two shots and Richards one.
Montgomery both impressed and surprised Eshan.
“The thing about him that, a couple of times I just put my head down, is that he made some jump shots, and it looked good,” the coach said. T”hey pick and popped him, but we were there on a couple of them, and obviously we want him to shoot on the perimeter.
“What we thought was advantageous, but when he makes jump shots as smoothly as he did … I know he had been hurt earlier, I mean it just adds another weapon to them offensively.
“When they can play the two bigs together, again I think it adds another, both ends of the floor, it can be really, really tough to match on the other side from different opponents.”
Still, Kentucky coach John Calipari wants to see more offensive rebounding from his team.
“We just got to keep working on it. There were some toughness plays. We’re stopping — we’re not in the kind of form we need to be in when we hit January, which is we got to be locked in,” Calipari said. “Like, they’re running a simple diagonal screen and we went in every huddle and said it, and we got screened every single time. And not only did we get screened, as soon as they hit us we stopped. Like, ‘Okay, I’m out of the play.’
“Well, your guy’s under the basket, you know. And then not knowing the guy that was diagonal screening, that guy wasn’t telling him, watch the screen, watch the screen. All that kind of stuff, we got to get better.
“All the other things, like I said, we’re going to be fine. It’s tough when you got eight guys. But if you’re one of the eight, you’re happy. And we’ll have to keep this going until we get Nate (Sestina) back. ”