By LARRY VAUGHT
There was a lot to like in Kentucky’s 89-79 victory over Georgia here Tuesday where the Cats scored their most points in a SEC game this year and second most overall to move to 5-1 in conference play.
There was Nick Richards being this year’s Nick Richards — 20 points, eight rebounds and three blocks — or Ashton Hagans being one of the SEC’s best guards again with 19 points, nine assists, five rebounds, four steals and one block.
But what has to be most impressive is the play UK got from three players — EJ Montgomery, Keion Brooks Jr. and Johnny Juzang — to reach its best level possible by March.
Montgomery had 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, five rebounds, one block and one steal in 18 minutes. He also showed the “fight” much more often that UK coach John Calipari has been wanting.
“He is getting better,” Calipari said. “He’s doing extra conditioning and it is showing. Not going to happen over night but it is coming.”
Brooks had his third straight solid performance with eight points on 4-for-7 shooting, five rebounds and one block in 16 minutes.
“I like that Keion has stepped in and become that third big,” Calipari said. “I have told them if someone is playing well they are staying in. He’s getting more confident every day now.”
Juzang keeps making a few more offensive plays. He didn’t hit a 3-pointer but was 3-for-5 from the field and had six points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.
“Terrific. He just has a nose for the ball. He makes baskets,” Calipari said.
Again, not overpowering numbers but numbers from Montgomery, Brooks and Juzang that certainly can make UK a much better team considering how well Richards, Hagans, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey have played most games this season.
“This team became empowered during that last game (a win at Arkansas) and now they are feeling it is about each other,” Calipari said. “I like during this game that I didn’t say a whole lot.
“But the same thing. We get up 15 points and then they had a chance. Why? Tough shots, trying to make hero plays. That’s where we have to get through. But this was a heck of a win.”
Georgia coach Tom Crean said he was proud of the way his team “battled” and had its chances but Kentucky was just too good.
“He (Calipari) is a huge personality but the personality of their team comes from him and I think that is what I saw tonight from them,” Crean said. “We went at it with them but they are just an outstanding team.”
Kentucky squandered a 10-point lead in the first half before a late surge pushed the halftime lead back to 41-35. Richards had 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks while Immanuel Quickley had nine points and two boards.
The Cats were 16-18 at the foul line and made their first 14 while Georgia was 8-for-10. Georgia star freshman Anthony Edwards was 0-for-5 from the field and did not score due in large part by the aggressive, sticky defense from Quickley that often denied him the ball. Georgia actually made its best run with Edwards on the bench.
“Down there he scored on Tyrese (Maxey) a couple of times and Tryese laughed with him like they were in an AAU game. Don’t even go near him. This ain’t for funnies,” Calipari said. “Immanuel has become that other defender for us.”