Second half run fuels UK basketball win in season opener


Freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives the ball down the baseline during the game against Utah Valley on Friday, November 10, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 73-63.

On Friday, UK alumnus Mark Pope brought his Utah Valley basketball team to take on the Cats in Rupp Arena. The Cats took the win 73-63, meaning No. 5 UK starts their regular season 1-0.

The first half was defined by shooting woes for UK. The Cats only held the lead for a mere 3:11 in the first half as Utah Valley stayed ahead with more efficient shooting. UK shot a poor 22 percent from the field, while Utah Valley converted on 40 percent of their shots from the floor. UK committed seven turnovers and made seven shots. Point guard Quade Green and forward Wenyen Gabriel went scoreless on a combined 0-9 shooting in the first.

In the first half, guard Hamidou Diallo and center Nick Richards were the only Cats to make more than one basket and the young team was struggling against a veteran Wolverine team consisting largely of transfer students. Rupp Arena had fallen as close to silent as it ever is as Pope’s team sank basket after basket to maintain their lead.

Richards was the only bright spot of the UK offense in the first half, shooting 3-5 and scoring on a play that made two Wolverine defenders knock each other over. He contributed an offensive rebound, but the Cats were being outrebounded 16-8 at the end of the first period.

At the half, Utah Valley led 34-25 and it looked like the Cats might get run out of their own building on opening night.

The second half, however, was an entirely different story.

As the Wolverines quickly made their lead 12 to start the half, UK stormed back on an 18-0 run to reclaim the lead and send Rupp Arena into a frenzy. Included in the run was a windmill dunk from Diallo, threes from forwards Kevin Knox and Gabriel and two eurosteps by starting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the open floor.

Utah Valley somewhat stemmed the tide after that massive run from the Cats, but the damage was done in deciding the game. At the end of the run, the teams were back to shooting roughly the same percentage on the game. The Cats would steadily increase their lead throughout the game, thanks to valuable performances from Diallo (18 points, five rebounds), Knox (12 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals) and Gilgeous-Alexander (13 points, four assists, four steals).

The Cats will be back in action Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., when they’ll host Vermont.