Kentucky head coach John Calipari doesn’t think his group’s identity needs to be known as a three-point shooting team, but when they’re hot from deep range, it sure makes a difference.
The No. 14 ranked Wildcats went 9-of-15 for 60 percent from the three-point line in their 76-67 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday afternoon. That’s UK’s best three-point shooting percentage of the season, just days after they went 50 percent (6-of-12) against Georgia.
“You have Immanuel, you have Nate, you have Tyrese, and even Ashton, so I mean, we can make them, but we're one of those teams, we get to the foul line, we get you in foul trouble, we'll take threes. But it's not how we play,” Calipari said. 23 was the most three-point shot attempts the Cats have taken all season, which came in their 71-65 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
“My problem with that, historically, the NCAA Tournament is a one-and-done tournament. And if you're taking 30 threes a game, there's going to be a game where you don't make them in those six, and your chances to win it are done,” Calipari said.
Four Wildcats contributed to Kentucky’s success behind the arc against the Tide—Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey both hit one, Nate Sestina sank two and Immanuel Quickley totaled five.
Quickley, who’s on a major hot-streak, says his team is hard to beat when the threes are falling.
“I think coach Cal says this all the time, you know, if we make five or six threes, we’ll win by eight,” Quickley said. “But if we make 10, 11, 12 threes we might win by 20. So if we can just keep making shots that’ll open everything up.”
For Calipari’s players, it’s more about them creating good shots for themselves rather than strictly shooting the ball from deep.
“We didn’t take 25. We took 15,” Calipari said.
Not only was three-point shooting a huge factor for Kentucky Saturday in Rupp, it was also major for Alabama—except, not in the way they would’ve hoped.
Heading into the game, Bama was averaging 11 made threes per game, but against the Cats, it shot just 4-of-21, good for the Tide’s worst performance of the season.
“Their game plan was not to give us threes,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “They executed their game out to perfection. We hit four threes. So, they did exactly what their coach told them to do.”
So, was that because of Kentucky’s efforts on defense or because Alabama just simply had a bad shooting day? Oats thinks a little of both. Off the top of his head and before he looks at any film, he says his guys had several contested threes that they shouldn’t have taken.
“If you’re contested, you’ve got to drive it,” Oats said. “When you drive it, they do a really good job of collapsing for the most part, then you can get your buddy an open three hopefully.”
Oats says Kentucky is as good as any team in the country that he’s seen.
“That is on them for getting their shooters shots when they needed to,” Oats said. “They had big-time players who stepped up and made shots when they needed to make them.”