LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky finished its Final Exams week with a bang!
Even after the Wildcats went through their final exams in the classroom, they still had a major test on the hardwood floor, facing a formidable squad from the Atlantic Coast Conference. And they passed with flying colors in beating Virginia Tech 93-86 Saturday afternoon, Dec. 16, before a crowd of 22,690 at Rupp Arena.
UK, which has won seven games in a row, improves its season mark to 9-1, while the Hokies dropped to 9-2 after winning seven consecutive games.
It was Kentucky’s best performance of the season so far. And freshman point guard Quade Green (pictured) agreed.
“Oh, it was the best game for us as a whole, really," he said. (We) kind of had to have toughness. It was a good game because Virginia Tech came out firing. It was hot from the 3-point line. It’s just another thing we gotta do and understand that we’re all together. Ain’t no one-to-one stuff. We all gotta win as one.”
Freshman Kevin Knox of Kentucky hit a game-high 21 points -- his fourth 20-point game of the year -- after scoring only four points against Monmouth on Dec. 9. UK rookie Hamidou Diallo and Green followed with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Diallo also hit 4 of 7 three-pointers.
Even though the Wildcats saw a hot Virginia Tech team hitting 58.2 percent of its jumpers, mostly from downtown, they managed to play aggressive defense, forcing the Hokies to commit 19 turnovers. The 58.2 shooting percentage by Tech is the second-highest field goal percentage allowed in the Calipari era.
“If we didn't turn them over, they win the game,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “Then you look and say, 'Well, how did you get them turned over?' Probably the press more than anything else.”
Added Diallo, “I think we were just aggressive. We were playing aggressive and never gave up. That’s what it was all about. There were times in the game when we were down (eight points in early second half), stayed with each other and we just kept competing.”
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams commented on UK’s defensive challenges.
“We turned the ball over 25 percent of the time,” he said. “We shot 58 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3 and that’s slightly above what our cumulative scoring averages were through ten games.”
The Wildcats, by the way, committed only 11 turnovers and had 18 assists. Green and freshman PJ Washington each had five assists with Knox getting four.
Green said his team learned a lot Saturday.
“That we’re tough, very tough," he said. "We can survive late situations.”
Kentucky’s next game is Saturday, Dec. 23 when it faces UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic in New Orleans. CBS will televise the 4 p.m. ET matchup.
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Quade Green had to wear protective goggles – a fashionable one -- against the Hokies after suffering an eye injury against Monmouth in New York.
“It was funny today,” said Kevin Knox. “He’s practiced the last couple of days with them on. He was knocking down shots, so I guess he can see with them on.”
Asked about playing with his protective glasses, Green said, “I’m not worried about that. I just played my game. Doesn’t matter what I’ve got on. I could have 'Timbs' on - boots on - I’m still gonna play my game.”
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Buzz Williams, who is now in his fourth year at Virginia Tech, praised Calipari and Kentucky’s storied program. He also still liked his team's game plan even after the loss to UK.
“I love them. I love Coach Cal,” said Williams, the former head coach at Marquette for six seasons. “He’s an early entry Hall of Famer and that’s only happened six times in the history of the game. So, to have a coach that’s inducted into the Hall of Fame, I have the utmost respect for him. It’s the best job in all of basketball at any level and I don’t think there will ever be another head coach to do a better job at the best job than Cal. I love their team.
"I think they’re getting better with each passing game and similar to what (6-1 junior guard) Justin Robinson said, I think our game plan coming into the game based on what they had done was the right game plan specific to our roster. They shot 50 percent from the field and made more free throws than they’ve ever made thus far this year and our turnover rate is too high. So the combination of that is a seven-point loss.”
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.
UK Athletics Photo by Quinn Foster