LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Immanuel Quickley is making the most of his minutes.
The freshman guard has emerged as one of Kentucky’s top threats from long range since the Wildcats began Southeastern Conference play last week at Alabama. Quickley, a known long-range shooter in high school, won the 3-point shooting contest in the McDonald’s All-American game last summer.
Quickley has made for of six attempts from behind the arc in the past two games and has scored 18 points in that span, including 10 in an 85-74 win over Texas A&M earlier this week. Quickley made a pair of 3-pointers, collected three steals and dished out a pair of assists against the Aggies.
The Wildcats (11-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) will be looking for more contributions from Quickley off the bench when they host Vanderbilt (9-5, 0-3) at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has been pleased with Quickley’s performances to open league play and said the freshman guard is starting to get a grasp on what it takes to compete at the collegiate level.
“Immanuel (Quickley) playing within what he needs to do and who he is, and he's playing great right now,” Calipari said earlier this week.
Quickley said his main “job” coming off the bench is to provide an immediate spark and he did just that in the win over Texas A&M.
“That helped us get on track and also stretch out the lead,” he said. “It was a collective effort and that was our job throughout the game.”
Tyler Herro hasn’t been surprised by Quickley’s recent emergence on both ends of the court.
“Immanuel is a great shooter,” he said. “We see it every day in practice and it’s transitioning over into the games. We just tell him to keep shooting it. We know what he can do. We know what he’s capable of doing.”
Quickley has appeared in all 14 games this season and has made at least two shots from long range in five contests. He missed three treys in wins over North Carolina and Louisville last month before finding his stroke against the Crimson Tide and Aggies.
“I’m definitely getting more comfortable,” he said. “It’s a credit to staying in the gym, trusting and believing in God and the shots are starting to fall,” he said.
Quickley also has improved defensively.
“I’m getting steals, getting in transition and that’s where it all starts,” he said. “Defense is my first thought. The scoring will come and the offense will come. When I come into the game, everything is on the ball and off the ball defense.”
Ashton Hagans has collected 19 steals during the past four games and has given the opponents a fit on the perimeter during the past two weeks.
“It’s just me playing my game on the defensive end and trying to get my teammates going,” Hagans said. “I’m just (keeping) my hands active and my teammates are talking to me on defense.”
The Commodores have struggled this season and have lost their first three league encounters, including an 82-63 setback to Georgia earlier this week in Athens.
Vanderbilt has been without freshman point guard Darius Garland, who tore his meniscus in his left knee earlier this season. With Garland in the lineup, Vandy opened the season with four straight victories. Since then, the Commodores have compiled a 5-5 mark and had to revamp their offensive and defensive schemes to offset the absence of Garland, who Brentwood Academy to four state titles in his home state.
Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 83-81 in overtime last season. Commodores coach Bryce Drew is 0-4 against the Wildcats.
“It’s an opponent that wants to win for the first time against Kentucky maybe for the first time in their career,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said. “It’s a team that’s trying to win at Rupp Arena and we’ve got to have a conversation about that — who we’re playing and how important it is to everybody else. It has to become that important to us, every single possession. Not just at the end of the day.”
Gametracker: Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 8:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.