LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Needing every point possible to compete with high-scoring Virginia Tech, No. 8 Kentucky got offense from all over the court off numerous opportunities created by a disruptive defense.
Kevin Knox scored 21 points, Hamidou Diallo added 20, including a big 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining, and the Wildcats outlasted Virginia Tech 93-86 on Saturday for their most significant victory this season.
The Wildcats won their seventh straight and hit a season-high 11 3-pointers, with six players making at least one. Kentucky (9-1) finished 11 of 22 from behind the arc. Quade Green added 17 points with a pair of 3s while wearing shaded protective glasses after injuring his eye last week against Monmouth.
However, Diallo’s left-corner 3 was the Wildcats’ most timely basket.
“It was just a normal shot to me,” said Diallo, who made 4 of 7 from long range, including one with 4:54 left for a 78-71 lead. “I just got the ball and all I saw was the rim, to be honest.”
Most important for the Wildcats was their pressing defense that forced 19 turnovers leading to 36 points. Coach John Calipari has stressed that kind of aggressiveness all season to his young team, and they responded by holding the Hokies 10 points below their nation-leading average of 96.2 per game despite allowing them to shoot 58 percent.
“If we let Virginia Tech be the aggressor, we lose this game,” Calipari said. “We don’t have a chance. And what I’ve learned in my career, you’re playing a pressing team, you always press the pressing team. And that makes you the aggressor versus them.”
Ahmed Hill had 20 points, Justin Robinson 19 and Kerry Blackshear 18 for Virginia Tech (9-2), which had won its previous seven.
Kentucky’s youngsters needed this type of win after struggling against less-challenging opponents and falling short to Kansas in a marquee matchup. With Power 5 schools rounding out their remaining schedule, beating an Atlantic Coast Conference foe was important.
Especially since no advantage was safe for long between these schools.
A back-and-forth game featuring 11 lead changes, eight ties and plenty of perimeter fireworks eventually swung Kentucky’s way down the stretch thanks to Knox and Diallo. Diallo’s free throw with 13 seconds left provided an eight-point edge and Knox’s two free throws 5 seconds later sealed the outcome.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies already have Power 5 wins against Washington, Iowa and Mississippi but sought a signature win over a ranked opponent. They maintained a fast pace throughout and didn’t flinch when trailing, staying close on Hill’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds left. But after hitting 7 of 12 from behind the arc in the first half, they made just 3 of 10 in the second and committed costly turnovers throughout.
“Sixty percent of their points came off our turnovers or second-chance shots,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “It’s just really hard math to overcome.”
Kentucky: Though the Wildcats seemed at times to be playing Virginia Tech’s pace, they were able to set the tempo when needed at both ends to regain the lead. Knox’s 11 points during a 13-2 run coming out of the break was critical in rallying Kentucky from a 47-41 halftime deficit. The Wildcats shot 48.5 percent and out-rebounded the Hokies 33-30. Wenyen Gabriel had nine boards.
Green didn’t start but entered early in the game wearing the protective glasses that he hinted at using the rest of the season. The freshman has motivation after shooting 6 of 12 – including 2 of 5 from long range – with five assists. “I just played my game,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what I’ve got on. I could have “Timbs” (Timberland) on- boots on- I’m still gonna play my game.”
The game matched first cousins Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky) against Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech), both of whom started. Gilgeous-Alexander won the scoring battle 9-6, while Alexander-Walker out-rebounded his cousin 4-0.
Virginia Tech hosts Presbyterian on Tuesday night.
Kentucky plays its third neutral-site, marquee game on Dec. 23 against UCLA in New Orleans. The schools split last season, with the Wildcats beating the Bruins in the NCAA Tournament.