Kentucky handles Kentucky State in final exhibition game
Kahlil Whitney isn't accustomed to scoreless games.
Thankfully, he almost immediately ended any thoughts of two in a row to start his Kentucky career.
"I was oh for five, so I had to get back in the gym and get my stroke back," Whitney said. "Other than that, it's just playing hard at all times. I took a lot of plays off the first game and I just can't do that. With my type of athleticism, I have to keep my foot on the gas at all times."
The five-star freshman came out firing a week removed from a zero-point outing, scoring the first points of the second and final Kentucky exhibition. Whitney didn't slow down from there in posting a game high-tying 15 points and five rebounds as UK downed Kentucky State University on Friday night, 83-51.
"He was involved in the game much more tonight," assistant coach Joel Justus said. "I think that's what (John Calipari) has really got after him, to be a guy that's involved on the ball, off the ball, rebounding, deflections. He's such a live body and he should be a guy that's a tremendous two-way player and then he makes shots."
Behind Whitney, Kentucky raced out to a 12-3 lead and never trailed. Immanuel Quickley matched Whitney with 15 points, while Nate Sestina scored 13. Neither of UK's primary ballhandlers, Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey, reached double figures in scoring, but they can be credited in large part for a balanced Wildcat scoring attack. Hagans had nine assists to give him 19 in two exhibitions and Maxey had five. In all, UK tallied assists on 25 of its 34 baskets.
"I think our backcourt are tremendous players, first of all," Justus said. "They got great feel. They got a couple guys with experience. You've got Tyrese that's an electric guy on both ends of the floor, and I think they're just going to continue to get better and better. Immanuel is just a totally different player. He plays with a different swag, he plays with a different level of confidence, a greater purpose, I think, of who he is and who he wants to become. And Ashton is Ashton."
The Wildcats held the visiting Thorobreds to just 25.9% shooting and blocked six shots, with Whitney accounting for three of them. UK also outrebounded Kentucky State 43-33 and held the Thorobreds to just five offensive rebounds even though junior big man Nick Richards sat out with a sprained ankle. That was a vast improvement on the minus-six rebounding margin the Cats had against Georgetown College last week.
"I think we were better than we were against Georgetown," Justus said. "And I think at this time of the season, and I would assume that Cal would say the same thing, you want to get better every single day. When we're on the pursuit of individuals becoming their best version and then collectively our team becoming our best version, you've got to just take steps each and every day.
The Cats will be seeking more of the same across the board as they prepare for their regular-season opener against top-ranked Michigan State on Tuesday.
"Coach put emphasis on that in practice, a lot of box-out drills and bodies banging against each other," Whitney said. "We got the No. 1 team in the country coming up Tuesday and they got some big guys on their team, so we gotta be physical."
With the way Calipari has been drilling that into his team's head, Whitney and his fellow newcomers understand that fact on a conceptual level. It's another thing to feel it firsthand, but Whitney is looking forward to the experience.
"I expect everything," Whitney said. "It's probably one of the biggest games of the year for us and them. So we just gotta go in that game focused, try to get the job done."