While a few Wildcat players may have regressed in the past few games, Immanuel Quickley is making moves in the right direction. After a relatively quiet few months for the guard, Quickley has started to find his role on the team: shooting. And John Calipari has noticed.
"Immanuel made shots," Coach Cal said after the game. "Those were big shots for us.
One of those "big shots" came late in the second half of Saturday's matchup against Vandy, when Quickley's successful three-point bucket moved the Cats' advantage up to five points (69-64). He's bumped his scoring average up to 7.3 points per game, largely thanks to three consecutive performances, each one a bit stronger than the last: 8 points against Alabama, 10 points against Texas A&M and 12 points against Vanderbilt.
Against the Commodores, Quickley finished 3-7 from the three-point line. His 12 points made him the third-highest scorer of the night, behind Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans (who each finished with 15 points).
Although the Wildcats largely struggled on the offensive end of the ball against Vanderbilt, Quickley showed flashes of, well, flash. That's what Kentucky needs - a player who can come in and create moments of momentum, specifically in close games. As a strong point guard, Ashton Hagans knows that, and he understands Quickley can be "that guy," especially now.
"Knowing that Quade [Green] left, we knew we were going to need somebody to step up in a scoring role because he was knocking down big-time shots," Hagans said. "That's [Quickley's] game. He's great at the one, he can play the two spot. He's just playing like he was playing in high school, just playing his role. Now he's at the [two-spot], he's wide open and knocking down big-time shots."
Keldon Johnson agrees: Quickley's growing contributions "help a lot."
"He works his butt off at everything," Johnson said. "So just to see him hitting shots, to see them falling, is great."
But for Quickley himself, he's just trying to play his game. When asked if he's getting more comfortable shooting, he replied, "absolutely." Calipari has compared Quickley to some former Cats with reputations of being gym rats (think: Brandon Knight, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), and we're starting to see why.
"Credit to Jesus Christ," Quickley said after the Vanderbilt win. "And I'm putting in the extra hours, staying in the gym before class and late at night after practice."
And while it looks like that extra time in the gym is starting to pay off, Quickley will have to continue making strides and working to increase his playing time in order to play the role the Cats desperately need him to play: the role of a shooter.