Portland Pilots, 44 at Kentucky Wildcats, 74:  Postmortem

Nerlens Noel had 7 big blocks against Portland today. - Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Camp Cal seems to have yielded some benefit as Kentucky easily handles Portland. Kentucky played better in this game than in their last three contests.

Today's game against the Portland Pilots was the first game since John Calipari instituted his "Camp Cal" extra conditioning workouts and tougher practices. From a top-level view, that strategy seems to have produced some earlier than expected benefit, as the Wildcats today looked more cohesive than they have all year.

Thanks go out to Portland, who gave a good effort today despite being overmatched. Portland is well coached by Eric Reveno, and their defense certainly forced Kentucky to be patient on offense, something that they have really struggled with so far this season. Portland is a scoring-challenged team, however, and when it came to putting up points on Kentucky, the Wildcats proved too long and too talented.

Let's look at the individual stats and superlatives:

  • Choosing the winner of the game ball is tough. Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel all have a case, though every one of them had a number of flaws. Goodwin had 15 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, but he also turned the ball over a team-leading 4 times. Poythress had an efficient 15 points on 6-8 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, but he had 3 turnovers. Nerlens Noel had 7 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks and 2 steals, and only had 2 turnovers. In the end, I'll give it to Noel, who seemed to make the least mistakes, and 7 blocks is pretty impressive.
  • Kyle Wiltjer also had a decent game, although he didn't play outstanding defense and missed some open looks. Still, he produced points in a variety of ways, getting 12 points while only making 1 three. His rebounding was suspect, however, garnering only 3 boards.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein played fine, managing 4 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals. He was very weak with the ball, though, and lost several rebounds to the Pilots he should have had. he also loafed back on transition in the first half, surrendering a layup, and got beat several times on defense.
  • Ryan Harrow had a very solid game, despite not shooting the ball well. Harrow produced a team-leading 6 assists, and looked very much in control most of the time. He also had 8 points, 4 rebounds and a steal against only one miscue.
  • Julius Mays looked great at times, and really bad at times. He didn't shoot the ball well at all, and made several ballhandling errors you don't really tend to associate with players of his years and experience, although he wasn't credited with a single turnover. 13 points on 5-14 shooting with 4 rebounds.
  • Jarrod Polson only got 4 minutes today, which is really a testament to the play of Harrow, as Calipari obviously liked what he saw out of the N.C. State Wolfpack transfer today. Poloson got a rebound and missed his only shot.

Team observations:

  • I thought the half-court offensive execution, on balance, was much better today. Yes, there were moments when we saw the same crazy, disjointed stuff we have seen all year, but there was also some sharp efforts and nice patience against a very decent zone defensive team.
  • The transition offense today was horrible. Turnovers, botched layups, poor lobs, bad passes, misdribbles -- pretty much every boneheaded thing you can come up with happened to Kentucky in transition today.
  • Kentucky held Portland to 25.9% from the field, and even against an offensively-challenged team, that's a very nice effort. For the most part, UK's defensive effort was reasonably consistent except for an ugly stretch early in the second half when they looked very much like they did in the second half against the Samford Bulldogs. But unlike in that game, they corrected the malfunction and played better the rest of the way.
  • I liked the effort better today, it was there more consistently than we have seen in the last three or even four games. Despite the fact that this Kentucky team still has no idea how to play college basketball, they are starting to show a determined effort to play right, even if their efforts often fall short in terms of execution and basketball IQ. But today, we saw signs. Hopefully, we'll continue to see them a week from now.

I think Kentucky fans can be heartened by most of what we saw out there today. There are plenty of things to criticize, but taken as a whole, it was a decent game that showed progress, and that's always something to be happy about. A lot of the time, I found myself enjoying this game rather than barking frustrated invective at my 48" Sony. That's really nice for a change.

I'd have to say this game was incremental improvement,and it wasn't across-the-board (I think offensive rebounding took a step back), but overall, there is a lot less to criticize than last game.

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