UK finds potent combo at point guard
LEXINGTON (KT) — John Calipari thought he had one true point guard on his squad this season. As it turns out, he has two players capable of leading the charge on offense with the recent emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Before the preseason workouts even began, Calipari penciled in Quade Green as the only player on the roster capable of handling point-guard duties. Behind the scenes, Gilgeous-Alexander is providing serious competition for Green at the point-guard slot and started Monday’s exhibition game against Morehead State.
Although Gilgeous-Alexander scored 17 points, Green delivered a solid performance off the bench. Green and Gilgeous-Alexander combined for 37 points and made 10 of 15 shots in a 92-67 win over the Eagles in a charity exhibition game last week. The duo also pulled down five rebounds, nine assists, six steals and committed just two turnovers.
Green said the biggest takeaway from the second exhibition game of the season was the team’s ability to handle adversity and added that competing is “in our DNA.”
“We had toughness,” he said. “We didn’t let up today and let them get the win. It was really a toughness test for us. They were coming back and we had to do something. Cal was getting on us and we went and did what we had to do.”
Calipari said Gilgeous-Alexander’s “energy, ability to deflect balls and make plays” gave the Wildcats a big lift against the Eagles. Calipari was pleased with Green’s performance but added the freshman guard still needs improvement before the team’s season opener against Utah Valley State set for Nov. 10.
“I still got to get Quade to get rid of the ball,” the Kentucky coach said. “He just wants to hold that thing. But, when he gets rid of it, it comes back to him and he scores, because he can do it. The second that thing that happens, when he gets rid of it, he’s in position that they have to space the court and play him, because he can shoot that three.”
Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin was impressed with Green’s outing against his squad.
“He’s good (and) he’s a good player,” he said. “That’s about what I would expect in a point guard here at Kentucky. They kind of know what they are doing with point guards here, wouldn’t you say. So good (of a) player. I thought he was good coming in, we talked about him as a staff. We obviously watched the film. I mean what did he have (against us), five assists, one turnover (and) 20 points. He’s good, he’s good. Hopefully he’ll continue to play like that for those guys going forward. But you can take a lot of good things from him.”
Gilgeous-Alexander said the competition with Green in practice has made him a better player since arriving at Kentucky. The pair rarely play on the same team and usually compete against each other because “we know what each other likes to do and spots we like t get to.”
“It’s better for us to go against each other,” he said. “We both know we are good players and we know each other’s spots and stuff like that. We know how to benefit each other on the court, so it’s good.”
Green has learned how to manage Gilgeous-Alexander’s wingspan, an issue for smaller guards on and around the perimeter.
“You really have to maneuver and debate and swindle around him,” he said. “We could be very good. We defend very good, but we just had too many offensive rebounds taken from us. We just have to cut that out the loop for any team we play.”
Although Gilgeous-Alexander and Green performed well against the Eagles, Calipari isn’t totally satisfied with his squad with nine days remaining before the regular-season opener.
“We’re going to have trouble early in the year. I don’t care, you guys can all say, oh, he’s just saying this, no, I’m prepared for it,” he said. “Now I’m going to be about these kids and I’m going to be focused on how do I get individuals better because my belief. Until individual players get it, your team can never get better.”