Lipscomb Bisons, 50, Kentucky Wildcats 88:  Postmortem

Kyle Wiltjer was outstanding against the Lipscomb Bisons. - Joe Robbins

Kentucky come off their first full week of Camp Cal with a lot of energy, if not a lot of efficiency.

This was the kind of game that many of us should have expected from the Kentucky Wildcats after a whole week of Camp Cal and trying to reinvent themselves after a disappointing nine games which saw Kentucky lose an uncharacteristic three games, and be unimpressive in some victories. Today, Kentucky won not just convincingly, but impressively. What will gall Kentucky fans is that this game could have been even better. However, due to just plain missing wide open shots and allowing an undersized team to stay with them on the boards, there are several things not to like about this game.

Thanks to the Lipscomb Bisons for their effort today. It's always tough coming into a 25,000 seat arena and trying to upset a talented basketball team, and the Bisons were intense (sometimes too intense) and did a very good job on the backboards. Their 3-2 zone once again befuddled Kentucky the few possessions they played it, and I expect we can see more coaches trot this out, because it always seems to confound Calipari's teams.

Player superlatives:

  • Kyle Wiltjer gets the game ball with 23 points and 12 rebounds. I'm not sure Wiltjer has had 12 rebounds in his last 3 games combined He also had a couple of assists and a steal to go with a devastating 7-9 shooting performance from the perimeter. I find nothing to criticize in Wiltjer's performance -- he defended better than at any time this year, shot better, rebounded better. He was just... better.
  • Nerlens Noel deserves an honorable mention for game ball. He fouled out, which is a definite negative, but he was otherwise every bit the player we need him to be. His quickness at 6'10" is absolutely otherworldly. His line is equally insane: 7 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks 4 steals, an assist and 3 turnovers. And 5 fouls.
  • Julius Mays did not shoot the ball well at all, but he did a good job in almost every other way. 1-8 shooting, but he made all five free throws, had 6 rebounds (3 offensive), 4 assists, a steal, and no turnovers.
  • Ryan Harrow continues to struggle with his shot. Harrow is one of those players who has let the 3-point shot thing get in his head, but he found other ways to get it done and really was good, even better than last game. He wound up with 12 points, but had only 2 assists and 1 rebound. He did have 2 steals. Overall, he ran the team pretty well, but he still has a ways to go.
  • Archie Goodwin's line today is deceptive, 10 points on 5-9 shooting, but he was really out of sorts. He got in foul trouble in the first half, and never really recovered. Archie managed 4 assists, 2 blocks and 4 rebounds to round out his line.
  • Jarrod Polson was really very good in this game. He hustled, he was competent running the team, and was just a tough little cookie out there. His defense was much improved as well. 7 points on 3-5 shooting, an offensive rebound, assist, and steal.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein had an up-and-down game. In the early part of the game he was pretty bad, but he got it going later and finished with a flourish, a couple of good plays on both ends of the floor. His line was 8 points on 3-4 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block and 2 turnovers.
  • Jon Hood played some quality minutes in this one, and played pretty well. He was 1-2 shooting, making one 3-pointer, and had a rebound.

Team observations:

  • The good is that Kentucky really hustled this game, and one thing coaches love are teams that hustle. I think UK got almost every 50/50 ball in this contest, and that has not been the norm for this team so far. If this is the results of Camp Cal, all I can say is, "Faster, please."
  • The offensive execution in this game was not very good at all. Bad shot selection, missed wide-open shots, flawed passing, no decision-making... I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Yes, sometimes the offense looked pretty good, but it was way too inefficient. The second half was much better than the first, but I'm kind of particular about wanting two decent halves back to back.
  • Kentucky's defense in the first half was execrable also. They allowed the Bisons to shoot nearly 50% in the first half, and players were biting on fakes, failing to close out on threes, allowing post up plays for scores and failing to offensive rebound. The second half, they played correctly, and much better, so I suppose we can take comfort from that. Inconsistency, though, has been and continues to plague this team on both sides of the court.
  • Really happy to see the Wildcats communicate better. It wasn't a lot better. Baby steps.

That's it. It will be another week before my next postmortem, and that will be Kentucky's final exam before rivalry week and the Louisville Cardinals come into focus. Based on what I saw today, this team at it's best is good enough to beat Louisville, but in the Yum! Center, they will have to put two halves together. They haven't done that so far this year, so Kentucky fans have reason for concern.

But two more weeks of Camp Cal remain, and this team is showing positive signs. I reiterate: Faster, please.

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