By LARRY VAUGHT
Three-point shooting figured to determine the outcome of Saturday’s Kentucky-Virginia Tech game.
It did — but just not the way most anticipated.
It was Kentucky freshman Hamidou Diallo who turned into Hamidou Three-allo Saturday in Rupp Arena. He went 4-for-7 from 3-point range (he was 6-for-19 from 3-point range coming into the game) and finished with 20 points, five rebounds and two assists in UK’s 93-86 win. It was his second straight 20-point game and fourth straight with 19 or more games.
“He’s shooting much better,” coach John Calipari said. “He’s working at it. I like Hami away from the ball as a secondary scorer because he gets baskets there as well as anybody.”
Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said it was more that UK made 11 3-pointers more than Diallo making four.
“I think he is a very good player. We were not playing specific to one player. If it was a talent contest, they win every game,” Williams said. “If we played again tomorrow, and I know we are not, I would do the exact same thing. They made more 3’s than they have all year and that was the gamble.”
Kentucky needed that type of offense because the Hokies shot 58.2 percent (32-for-55) from the field — the second best shooting performance by a UK opponent in the John Calipari era.
“If we didn’t turn them over, they win the game. If they don’t turn it over (19 times), they beat us. The played loose with nothing to lose,” Calipari said.
The Hokies made six straight shots late in the game when UK had an 80-73 lead but Calipari’s Cats had enough offense to hold on for the win. Kentucky shot 48.5 percent overall (33-for-68) and was 11-for-22 from 3.
“They (Tech) are a fast team. We are more of a post-up team. The minute you trap, it should open up our shooters,” Calipari said. “That’s where we got most of our 3’s.”
Kevin Knox, coming off a 1-for-9 shooting performance in UK’s previous game, was 7-for-16 from the field but had eight of UK’s points in a 10-0 second-half run when the Cats trailed 51-44. He finished with 21 points, five rebounds and two assists. It was his fourth 20-point game of the season.
Quade Green, despite playing with sunglass/goggles to protect his injured eye, had 17 points and five assists.
“He’s playing the way I want him to play which is score baskets. But by doing that he is getting five assists and one turnover. He’s either trying to score or if you stop him, he will give it to somebody because he’s a good passer.
P.J. Washington was just 4-for-10 from the field but hit a key 3-pointer late in the game and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. Wenyen Gabriel had seven points and nine rebounds.
Calipari said UK’s press, which he put in this week, is one he used years ago. But it gives UK a way to speed up play and disrupt teams.
“I cannot stand giving up baskets. I want them all contested. If you are doing this, you have a little different mentality. Let’s be the aggressor. If we let Virginia Tech be the aggressor, we lose this game,” Calipari said. “What I have learned is that if you are playing a pressing team, you press them.”
Tech’s Justin Williams said the press bothered the Hokies initially.
“Overall it was a good test and good road experience for us. We play in the best conference, so no awe in playing Kentucky,” Williams said. “They just hit open shots which is what a good team should do.”
Virginia Tech used a demoralizing 15-2 run in the first half after UK had hit three straight 3’s to take a 37-32 lead. The Hokies were 18 of 29 from the field in the first half, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range, and led 47-41 at half.
Calipari told players if they did not run through screens to get to 3-point shooters, they would not play. Kentucky limited Tech to three 3-pointers in the second half.
Kentucky’s offense was not shabby in the first half. Kentucky was 16 of 35 from the field, including 7-for-13 on 3’s, and had 10 assists. But the Cats could not stop the Hokies who proved why their fast past and 3-point shot has made them the nation’s top scoring team this season.
Calipari still believes his team is going to be much better as the season continues.
“These kids are really good players and are going to have professional careers. I don’t know who is watching to think they are not,” Calipari said. “What they have is special. The question becomes is when we are fatigued, how do we play. That’s why this game was important for us.
“Everybody knows we are playing all freshmen. I bet you this is the youngest team in the last 30 years to to try and compete for something. We are getting respect. We are. This team needed this kind of schedule. We are trying to learn who we are. I coach at Kentucky. There are no excuses here. All I worry about is how do I get individual players better.”