LEXINGTON, Ky. — As of Monday, starting point guard Quade Green still had not practiced, but “I think he’s any day now,” Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said Monday.
He wasn’t sure if Green would participate in the practice immediately following that interview, on the eve of the 18th-ranked Wildcats’ trip to South Carolina. Green suffered a back strain in the first half of a loss at Tennessee on Jan. 6 and has missed UK’s last two games — wins over Texas A&M and Vanderbilt despite having just seven available scholarship players.
“I know he’s getting close,” Payne said. “He’s been watching and observing. Hopefully he’s seen a different side of the game that he didn’t see from playing that he can watch and see exactly what we’re trying to get our guards to do — just how intense it is and how tough you have to be defensively.”
Green is averaging 10.7 points and 3.4 assists, shooting 79 percent from the free-throw line and 40 percent from 3-point range.
Kentucky sure could’ve used him in the final moments against the Aggies and Commodores, when turnovers and missed free throws aided frantic comebacks that nearly cost the Cats.
“[Green] has done a good job at the end of games of making big shots and making free throws,” Payne said. “But to be honest with you, the way Shai [Gilgeous-] Alexander is playing right now, I mean, the kid has been unbelievable. He’s been great. He’s been our best player by far.
“He’s putting unbelievable pressure on the defense. He’s living in the lanes, he’s making free throws, he’s defending, he’s filling up the stat sheet. Can’t argue with that.”
Gilgeous-Alexander, a fellow freshman, has stepped into the starting lineup with Green out and played 39 minutes each of the last two games, averaging 19 points, 5.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and shooting 62 percent from the field in a pair of victories. He earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for those heroics.
Still, the shorthanded Wildcats need Green back — ideally before Saturday’s important home game against SEC rival (and fellow contender) Florida.