No. 8 Kentucky gets past Virginia Tech
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kevin Knox scored 21 points and Hamidou Diallo added 20 to power No. 8 Kentucky to a 93-86 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky coach John Calipari credited the insertion of a new full-court press for turning the tide on Saturday.
“You saw that I put in a press. That’s what I worked on last week,” Calipari said. “It was OK for three days’ work. But that’s my old press from 10 years ago. When you’ve been doing this 40 years, you can go reach back in the basket 20 years ago and come up with something you used that still can work.”
The 2-2-1 press was made for the Wildcats’ roster.
“I’ve got to figure out something that disrupts the game and something that they don’t get into a rhythm,” Calipari said. “It’s not that hard a press, but it’s one that I think could be effective for this team. Part of it is when the front line of your press is 6-9 and 6-6, and that guard is looking at that and you put interceptor in the middle and the other guy is 6-9 and you’ve got an interceptor deep who’s 7-foot. Kind of makes you think like ‘what are we doing.’”
One of the biggest reasons for Kentucky’s victory was a statistic few could have predicted. The Wildcats made 11 3-pointers compared to 10 for Virginia Tech.
“If someone would’ve told me they were going to do that I wouldn’t have believed them,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “If we played again tomorrow, I would still play the numbers. But a credit to them, they almost tripled their 3-point makes. They were averaging four coming into this game.”
Another factor was the 19 Virginia Tech turnovers.
“If we didn’t turn them over, they win the game,” Calipari predicted. “Then you look and say, well, how did you get them turned over? Probably the press more than anything else. If they don’t turn it over, they beat us.”
“We turned the ball over 25 percent of the time and 60 percent of their points came off of our turnovers or second-chance shots,” Williams said. “I’m not trying to be sarcastic, it’s just really hard math to overcome. If 60 percent of the opponent shots come off of offensive rebounds and turnovers, and then on the flip side, in essence we shoot 60 percent. It’s just bad math, so you’re constantly fighting uphill.”
In a game that featured 11 lead changes and eight ties, Kentucky used a 10-0 run early in the second half to push ahead for good. Knox scored eight of the points in that spurt.
Knox opened the second half by scoring 11 of Kentucky’s first 13 points as the Wildcats rallied from a six-point halftime deficit.
Kentucky (9-1) also got 17 points from freshman guard Quade Green, who did not start as he continues to nurse an injured eye suffered one week ago. He played the game with goggles.
Kentucky shot 48.5 percent, including 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Kentucky also had 18 assists versus 11 turnovers, one of its best efforts of the season.
Redshirt junior guard Ahmed Hill topped Virginia Tech with 20 points. Junior guard Justin Robinson added 19 and redshirt sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. scored 18 before fouling out.
Virginia Tech (9-2) shot 58.2 percent, including 45.5 percent from 3-point range. The Hokies had 18 assists versus 19 turnovers.
The first half was a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair as expected, featuring four ties and eight lead changes. Kentucky’s largest lead was five points and Virginia Tech’s was eight as the Hokies finished the half with a 47-41 advantage.
It was the most points Kentucky has surrendered in the first half this season.
Hill topped the Hokies with 12 first-half points, hitting 4 of 5 field goals. Robinson scored nine and Bibbs had eight. As a team, Virginia Tech shot 62 percent, including 58 percent from 3-point range.
For Kentucky, Green came off the bench to lead the first half with 10 points. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored seven and Knox had six. Kentucky shot 45.7 percent overall, but 53.8 from 3-point range in the first half.
NOTES: Virginia Tech began the day ranked No. 1 in America in scoring (96.2 points per game) and scoring margin (25.5) and No. 4 in assists (19.9). ... Virginia Tech had a seven-game winning streak halted, while Kentucky extended its winning streak to seven games. ... Kentucky-Virginia Tech was a family reunion for G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of Kentucky and G Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Virginia Tech, who are cousins. The two grew up playing one-on-one in Canada and were high school teammates for two years at Hamilton Heights Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn. ... Kentucky leads the series, 4-1. The previous meeting was an 84-60 NCAA Tournament win for Kentucky on its way to the 1996 championship.