By LARRY VAUGHT
After Immanuel Quickley’s career-high 30 points in Tuesday night’s 69-60 win at Texas A&M, Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted to talk about his sophomore guard’s defense.
“He shot the ball. He made two or three plays he could have passed but I am proud of him,” Calipari said on ESPN after the game. “Say what you want about what he is doing offensively but he is not the same defender as last year.
“He has improved because he’s more confident defensively and guards the other team’s best player. He’s also better being low and lunging and playing more physical.”
But he’s also pretty darn good at making shots, too. He had three 3-pointers in the first five minutes when UK had 19 points — the Cats had 50 points in the next 35 minutes —and finished the game going 8-for-12 from 3-point range and 11 of 19 overall. He also had five rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and one steal in 37 minutes.
“With offense like that (from Quickley), Kentucky can win the whole thing,” ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said.
As good as Quickley was what sophomore EJ Montgomery did was just as important. He had eight points on 3-for-5 shooting and 10 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, along with three assists, two steals and one block.
Montgomery’s energy was good from start to finish and maybe most importantly he stayed out of foul trouble. He played a season high 38 minutes and had just one foul.
For them to get to Elite Eight or Final Four, EJ Montgomery needs to rebound the ball and put pressure on the ball. If he does that, these guys can get to the Final Four.
“For them to get to the Elite Eight or Final Four, EJ Montgomery needs to rebound the ball and put pressure on the ball. If he does that, these guys can get to the Final Four,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said after the game.
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said Monday he felt Montgomery was “close” to becoming the player UK needed him to be and he played like that at Texas A&M.
Still, Quickley was the man just like he was against Florida on Saturday when he had 22 of his 26 points in the second half. He had 14 second-half points Tuesday and is averaging 15 points in the second half of games during UK’s seven-game win streak.
His biggest shot came with 2:03 to play after A&M had cut what once seemed like a safe UK lead to 57-50. With the shot clock about to expire, Quickley split defenders and hit a leaner in the lane. After Texas A&M hit a free throw, he buried a 3-pointer late in the shot clock for a 62-51 lead that clinched the win.
“That was a Final Four possession by Kentucky. A&M did everything right and closed down the gaps and Kentucky still knocked down a shot (by Quickley),” Dykes said.
Like he normally does, Quickley downplayed what he did in his postgame interview.
“Coach Cal nows what is best for his players and that’s why you come to Kentucky,” Quickley said. “You come here to work. You come here to develop and I am so glad that I came here. One of the best decisions of my life.
“God has been good. All credit to him. My teammates find me in great spots and coaches put me in great positions to be successful.”