The University of Kentucky’s Wildcats hosted our Transylvania Pioneers at Rupp Arena on Friday night in the “Battle on Broadway.” The Wildcats prevailed over the Pioneers 94-66 in front of a large but rather quiet crowd.
Starting this game for the Pioneers were seniors Bo Schuh and Cooper Theobald, juniors Spencer McKinney and Gabe Schmitt, and first-year Luke Schroeder. In their first game this season, the Wildcats’ starters were sophomores Quade Green, PJ Washington, and Nick Richards, as well as first-year Immanuel Quickley and graduate transfer Reid Travis.
As Transylvania Head Coach Brian Lane predicted in his preview of the game, Kentucky’s guards came out full court pressing the Pioneers, who adjusted to the pressure over the course of the game. UK blocked an early shot, leading to a fast break alley-oop from guard Immanuel Quickley to PJ Washington. That was followed by another steal and dunk by Kentucky. Going into the first TV timeout, the score was only 8-5 Wildcats, with scores from Theobald and Schmitt.
After the TV timeout, UK went on a 10-0 run that led Transy to take their first timeout of the half. Then the Pios got some help off the bench from sophomore Michael Jefferson with a beautiful reverse layup that got some “oooos” from the crowd. Jefferson found success early, driving to the paint and tossing a smooth kickout bounce pass to first-year Aidan Pashley. The first half ended in a dazzling lay-up finish by UK first-year Keldon Johnson, but he got the shot off too late, leaving the score at the half 49-30.
UK did a great job controlling the interior in the first half, and Transylvania struggled to make them pay from outside, shooting just 4-18 from three. UK had 5 blocks on Transylvania going into halftime. The Pios were also out-rebounded 28-12 in the first half. Kentucky shot 12 more throws than the Pioneers, but had yet to make a three-pointer going into halftime.
The second half fared much better for Transylvania’s offense. They went from shooting a tad over 30% from the field to shooting almost 50% in the second half. Pioneer guards Michael Jefferson and Cooper Theobald found more success driving to the basket and creating opportunities for themselves to score. Kentucky did not make their first three-pointer, sunk by guard Quade Green, until 14:24 to go in the 2nd half. Green built off this shot with back-to-back lay-ups a couple minutes later.
The pace of the second half was significantly slower than the first. Both teams were constantly fouling one another, although none of the fouls were malicious or flagrant. UK Head Coach John Calipari attributed Kentucky’s fouls to fatigue from playing a full court press, and to Transylvania’s consistently lengthy possessions. Pioneer first-year forward Luke Schroeder even fouled out of the game, while the crowd booed louder and louder at the refs with each call that was made.
The game concluded with a final score of 94-66 Kentucky, with dominant play from the big men of the Wildcats. Kentucky out-rebounded the Pioneers by an extremely wide margin of 52-18. UK had a very balanced scoring attack with seven players in double figures to Transy’s two. Leading scorers were Kentucky’s first-year forward EJ Montgomery and the Pioneers’ sophomore Michael Jefferson, each scoring 14 points.
Coach Lane in pre-game press conference mentioned how thankful he was to Coach Calipari for helping the Pioneers get this opportunity. He praised his team’s effort and Kentucky’s communication on defense that the Wildcats were mentioning was a focus for them. Senior Cooper Theobald mentioned that playing this type of competition will only help propel the program and help them learn about what they need to work on.
The Pioneers played with great effort and had some strong moments against the Wildcats. Building off of this performance against a top-five team in the country, the Pioneers should be a force in the Heartland Conference this season and a great joy for any basketball fan to watch.