LEXINGTON, Ky. — Just a day earlier, John Calipari had been explaining how vital freshman point guard Quade Green is to Kentucky’s offense. How his value is greater than most people understand. How if Green’s gouged right eye kept him from playing Saturday against Virginia Tech, it would spell trouble.
Then the game started, but Green did not, and the Hokies unleashed their spectacular offense. Calipari could only stomach 92 seconds and 5 quick points by the visitors before he hollered down his bench for the 6-foot kid wearing sunglasses.
No, they hadn’t peeled the roof back on Rupp Arena for the daytime tip. But a dark-spectacled Green nearly blew the lid off it when he checked in and went right to work carving up Virginia Tech’s defense.
He hit 6 of 12 shots, made a pair of 3-pointers, scored 17 points, dished 5 assists and coughed up a single turnover. Eighth-ranked Kentucky (9-1) needed nearly every bit of that in a wild, 93-86 shootout against the top-scoring and best-shooting team in college basketball.
The Hokies hit 58.2 percent from the field Saturday — best ever in that building during Calipari’s eight-plus seasons — and hit 10 3-pointers and lost, but just barely, because Green delivered the greatest game by a Wildcats player wearing shades. Unofficially.
“He was really good,” Calipari said. “I kind of felt bad for him, so I was going to wear sunglasses [Saturday], too. I told the team I was going to. I thought, ‘If he has to do it, I’ll do it with him. We’ll both have sunglasses.’ But it would have been a national story: Who does he think he is? He thinks he’s at the beach.”
Green, who was poked in the eye a week earlier against Monmouth and had it swell completely shut, said the combination shades/goggles were to block out bright lights that are bothering him and to protect against another injury. Now here’s the fun part: How long does he plan to wear them?
“All season,” Green said. “Yep, I need them because I can’t get poked in my eye again. I’m scared about that, [and] the light messes it up. [The eye] is open now, but the light just agitates it.”
Quade Green, legend. Says he's going to wear these ALL SEASON. pic.twitter.com/TJX3UNGbTN
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) December 16, 2017
Officials inspected Green’s glasses before tip-off to “make sure they were medical,” Green said, and not just him trying to look cool. But, for the record, teammates figure he’s the Wildcats player most likely to wear shades indoors simply to be stylish.
“Definitely the coolest guy,” said fellow guard Hamidou Diallo, who kept up his hot streak with 20 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and the critical 3-pointer with 50 seconds to go in a 2-point game. “He needs to keep those on.”
The reason Calipari was raving about Green’s importance on Friday was made plain on Saturday: He’s such a reliable shot maker that defenses have to respect him, react to him, and it opens up teammates for quality shots. Guys such as Diallo, who has scored 19-plus in four consecutive games, and Kevin Knox, who had 21 points, 5 boards and 4 assists.
“He’s playing the way I want him to play, which is: Score baskets, kid. Score baskets. That’s what you do,” Calipari said. “By doing that, he’s [also] getting 5 assists, 1 turn. So instead of being like, ‘Watch me with the ball,’ and bouncing it 12 times, he’s either trying to score it or if you stop him from scoring it, he’ll give it to somebody.”
On Saturday, that added up to Kentucky’s best all-around offensive performance of the season and its best win so far. The Cats had as many made 3-pointers (11 in 22 attempts) as turnovers.
So whether you want to call Green “Terminator” or “Cyclops,” among the nicknames he heard this week — when he did not practice once, by the way — just don’t sleep on how important he is to these young Cats. And don’t mess with those shades.
“I say we all get glasses. Cal, all the coaches,” Knox said. “He can keep them if he wants to. If he can knock down shots like he did, he can have them on for the rest of the year.”