Fri, 03 Apr 2020

No. 8 Kentucky, Quickley aim for aggression at Texas AM

Field Level Media
25 Feb 2020, 11:19 GMT+10

The eighth-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, powered by sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley, visit the Texas AM Aggies on Tuesday night in College Station.

Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 SEC) is atop the conference standings, and the Wildcats are 6-2 on the road this season.

Quickley leads Kentucky and ranks 10th in the conference in scoring (15.7), but Wildcats coach John Calipari recently had to threaten him with a benching.

"I said, 'If you don't shoot open shots, I'm going to put Johnny (Juzang) in,'" Calipari said. "I know (Juzang) will shoot every shot."

Quickley responded by scoring a career-high 26 points as Kentucky beat the Florida Gators 65-59 on Saturday. During a key second-half stretch against Florida, Quickley scored 15 of Kentucky's 17 points as the Wildcats went on to their sixth straight win.

A season-high Rupp Arena crowd of 20,489 chanted "MVP! MVP!" in honor of Quickley, who is building a case for himself as the possible SEC Player of the Year.

Quickley, who has come a long way from his freshman season -- when he averaged 5.2 points in a reserve role - said he heard the message from Kentucky's coaches.

"I don't want to say who it was, but one of my coaches yelled at me with some choice words," Quickley said after the Florida game. "For lack of a better term, he said, 'You need to score.' That got me going."

Meanwhile, the Aggies (14-12, 8-6) have won three straight games and are coming off their best shooting performance since November 2017.

In Saturday's 87-75 over Mississippi State, the Aggies shot 59.6 percent from the floor, including 52.9 percent on 3-pointers. They also made 16 of 18 free throws (88.9 percent).

"Our confidence is pretty high right now," said Josh Nebo, Texas AM's 6-9, 245-pound center.

Nebo leads the Aggies in scoring (11.9 points per game), field-goal percentage (67.5) and blocks (2.0) while ranking second in rebounds (6.2)

Another key is 6-6 freshman Emanuel Miller, who is averaging 6.8 points and tops the team in rebounds (6.5).

Aggies senior guard Wendell Mitchell said his team -- in the first year under coach Buzz Williams -- has started to figure things out during this win streak.

"We're understanding that when we get the ball to Nebo and (Miller), games are easier," Mitchell said. "Those two draw double teams and put our opponents into rotations. When that happens, we're hard to guard."

Williams, who directed Virginia Tech to a school-record 26 wins and an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 berth last season, signed a six-year, $24 million contract with the Aggies, who would love nothing better at that moment than to knock off Kentucky.

The Wildcats have perhaps the most talented roster in the SEC, including 6-3 sophomore point guard Ashton Hagans, who leads the league in assists (6.5) and appears recovered from a leg injury. He played off the bench against the Gators and had seven points and four assists. He also ranks second in the conference in steals (2.0).

Kentucky's Nick Richards, a 6-11 junior center, leads the SEC in field-goal percentage (65.3), ranks second in blocks (2.2) and third in rebounding (8.0). He is also averaging 14.3 points.

As usual, Kentucky's freshman class is one of the best in the nation. It's led this season by 6-3 guard Tyrese Maxey, a strong defender and rim-finisher who is averaging 13.9 points.

Maxey, Hagans and Richard are all possible first-round picks this year.

Williams, however, said his team is not intimidated.

"To be thinking, 'Here comes Big Blue Nation, Coach (Calipari) is the best,' " Williams said, "None of those words are going on amongst our team."

--Field Level Media

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