When tipoff rolled around for Kentucky vs. Alabama Saturday at noon, of the 353 teams playing division one basketball, only two depended less than Kentucky for offense from three pointers.
And yet, that was the difference in the Wildcats’ 76-67 win over the Crimson Tide in Rupp Arena. Kentucky hit nine of 15 from distance, including a clutch bomb from the right corner off an inbounds play with nine seconds left.
“If the man went under, I knew I was shooting,” said the shooter, Immanuel Quickley. He was also the trigger man on the play and when his defender, indeed, headed for the paint, Quickley stepped in bounds, took a return pass from Nick Richards and drained the trey that proved to be a dagger. It gave Kentucky a 74-67 lead with exactly one minute left.
Quickley has been doing a lot of that lately, hitting threes. He made eight 3-pointers in a row – his last two vs. Missouri, all three at Georgia and the first three today – before missing in the second half. Overall, he’s made 10 of his last 11.This, after hitting just 30 percent from beyond the arc earlier in the season.
Just how hot is he?
“Hot,” he said. “Touch me, you might burn.”
It was Alabama that suffered the singes on this afternoon that saw the Cats run off to a 15-point lead, only to have the Crimson Tide carve it down to three with 2:20 remaining. But Quickley’s trey and subsequent free throws down the stretch helped sock it away.
“You don’t think they’re going to kill you from three,” Bama coach Nate Oates said later. It was Oates who quoted the figures that had the Wildcats near the bottom nationally in three-point production.
“We hit four. They hit nine,” he said. “Three of those nine came in the last few minutes.”
His memory was sharp. Quickley had bagged a triple at the 4:33 mark and Ashton Hagan threw one in a minute later, helping to offset a relentless Alabama attack.
“Take those away, it’s a different game,” said Oates, who also complimented the Wildcat defense.
“They’re hard to score on,” he said. “They did as good a job on defense on us as anyone has done all year.”
It was just good enough to lock down a third straight victory to open SEC play for the Wildcats (not to mention regular season victory number 1,000 in program history).
Quickley came off the bench and scored 19 points, including 5-of-6 on 3-pointers, adding five rebounds and three assists. During UK’s current four-game win streak (dating back to the U of L game) he’s averaging a team-best 18.8 points.
“Glory to God,” Quickley said. “I’m just taking it, making it. I have a lot of confidence right now. The ones I’m missing, I‘m kind of shocked.”
His coach isn’t too surprised. He’s seeing hard work pay off.
“He’s a confident kid,” John Calipari said. “He spends so much time in the gym, he expects to make them. The kid lives in the gym. He’s kind of like Tyler (Herro), he’s like Shai (Gilgeous-) Alexander, those guys. He’s just like them.”
He should be. Quickley said one of the managers has spent time splicing together video of Herro from last season and sending it on to him.
“I’m watching a lot of film,” Quickley said. “I watch a lot of Tyler last year because I’m in the same position. Just the reads he makes, the passes off down screens. When to pull up, stuff like that.”
Evidently, it’s paying off as it did for Herro and the Wildcats last season. Even when his coach might have worked against him by calling time so deep into the shot clock.
“I called timeout,” Calipari said, “and you’re the guy shooting the ball, and then I — I ice you. I ice you, and you’re my guy. And he still makes it.”
No worries, said Quickely. “The (defender) was playing so far under, I just shot it,” he said.
And made it. He’s been doing a lot of that these days. Touch him – and you might burn.