No. 8 Kentucky ready for stiff test vs. Virginia Tech
LEXINGTON, Ky. — No. 8 Kentucky, according to coach John Calipari, will get its most severe test of the season on Saturday when Virginia Tech visits Rupp Arena.
“Hard game for us to win, really hard,” Calipari said Friday. “This team is a tough, grind it, fly up and down, shoot 3s, get to the rim, come at you, try to be the aggressor team. After this game, we’ll see where we are.”
Virginia Tech (9-1) leads the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game, margin of victory (25.5) and ranks No. 4 in assists with 19.9. The Hokies own victories over Washington (103-79), Iowa (79-55) and Ole Miss (83-80 in overtime).
“They beat Washington by 24 and Washington beat Kansas on the road by 16, I believe. They beat them pretty good. They beat Ole Miss on the road. This will be a hard game for us,” Calipari said.
Kentucky is 8-1 with its lone loss being 65-61 to Kansas on Nov. 14 in the Champions Classic in Chicago. Virginia Tech’s only loss was 77-71 to Saint Louis on Nov. 16 in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden.
“Virginia Tech, first of all Buzz does an unbelievable job. He’s been a good friend for a long time,” Calipari said. “Second thing, this team is the best 3-point shooting team we will face all year. Third thing, they draw fouls because they put their head down and they go at that basket. The other thing they do is they’re going to press us.”
Virginia Tech is shooting 55.3 from the field, 46.8 from 3-point range and 74.7 from the foul line. The Hokies have 199 assists vs. 130 turnovers.
Kentucky is shooting 50.6 from the field, 34.7 from beyond the arc, and 68.1 on free throws. The Wildcats have 119 assists vs. 121 turnovers.
“This a veteran team that has done this. They’ve done it in the ACC, they’re not afraid,” Calipari said. “They’re not going to come in here with all this respect, go back and play a zone or sag. They are going to press us. They’re playing fast. Now, we’ve been in these games with two teams playing fast. Pretty fun to watch. And that’s how they will play.”
Virginia Tech is led in scoring by senior guard Justin Bibbs at 17.5 points per game. Redshirt junior guard Ahmed Hill checks in at 16.6, freshman guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker at 14.4, redshirt sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear at 13.0 and junior guard Justin Robinson at 9.9.
Kentucky’s top six scorers are all freshmen — Kevin Knox, 15.2; Hamidou Diallo, 14.7; Quade Green, 10.3; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 10.1; P.J. Washington, 9.7; and Nick Richards, 8.8 with a team best 6.7 rebounds per game.
“This game is plugged into our schedule at a time when we need to learn about us and we will,” Calipari said. “We’re at the stage with this team that we either win or we learn. I’m not taking it any other way. We’re going to learn as individual players where guys are and as a team where we are.”
One key to watch on Saturday is whether Kentucky gets any minutes from Green or sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones. Green was poked in the eye last Saturday against Monmouth and did not return. Killeya-Jones missed the game with a sprained ankle.
Calipari said both players were practicing late in the week and were expected to play on Saturday.
“I believe so,” Calipari said, “but something could happen today.
“Quade’s ability to score, without him it hurts us more than everybody understands,” Calipari said. “He’s a consistent guy that can get buckets. It’s just in his DNA. That not being there will put us in a tough position for this game.”