Kentucky Wildcats, 55, at Alabama Crimson Tide, 59:  Postmortem

Frederick Breedon

Kentucky drops a hard-fought game in Tuscaloosa. A lot went wrong in this game, but execution was the main issue.

Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this Kentucky Wildcats team was not up to the challenge tonight. It looked hopeful after the first 20 minutes, but as basketball coaches at any level will tell you, the most irrelevant statistic in basketball is the halftime score.

Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide. They won the game with tough defense in the second half, and they made big baskets at the end of the game when they needed to. Nothing will get you victories like keeping the game in reach, then executing down the stretch. The Tide did, and the Wildcats did not.

Obviously, this is a tough game for Kentucky. At this point, there is really not much to say except that this team simply doesn't execute well, and quite frankly, they don't seem to communicate with each other at all when the going gets tough. When things are going well, they seem to play just fine, but when it gets really tough in the trenches, it just seems to break down. No big stops when you need them. No baskets when you have to have them.

I don't give out game balls for losses, because in my mind, basketball is completely a zero-sum game. You either win, or you lose. It's binary. The score isn't, but the final result is, and at the end, close losses mean little or nothing when it counts.

Observations:

  • I have no idea what happened in the locker room. Whatever it was, I hope there is some kind of counter-curse against it.
  • Calipari may be coaching to win future games, but in my view, he didn't coach to win this one. He pulled Harrow at exactly the wrong time, I'm not sure what kind of head games he was playing with Poythress, and I didn't see any corrections from half to half. There should be some. That's my opinion, for what it's worth. Why did we quit posting Wiltjer up until the bitter end?
  • Ryan Harrow was a mess tonight. There is no comparison with the Harrow we saw tonight and the guy we have seen the last few games. Bad game, I guess. Everybody has them.
  • Nerlens Noel played hard, but he struggled to score. It's hard to explain. 4-9 from where he shoots it is like Harrow's 3-12. But he had 13 rebounds and 7 blocks. God knows where we would be without him. If there was a game ball, I'd probably give it to him by default.
  • Archie Goodwin continues to make a mess of things. It's hard to find positives in this performance, and I'm not really inclined to look for them. Turnovers, missed shots, loathsome decisions -- 2-12, what's to be said? Another poor game in what is becoming a string of them.
  • Kyle Wiltjer was great in the first half, not great in the second. He made all kinds of mistakes in the second stanza, and couldn't score to boot, managing only 3 points and missing the front end of a one and one. He did have some good moments, but not enough to overcome the bad ones.
  • Julius Mays made some shots, but also did something uncharacteristic -- he hurt the team with poor defense and turnovers. Overall he was a positive, but it was closer than usual.
  • Jarrod Polson did what he always does -- gritted out some minutes, got a few rebounds and a basket. But he isn't good enough to replace Harrow for long stretches, even when Harrow plays bad.
  • Alex Poythress played 15 minutes and fouled out. That pretty much sums up his game. He didn't really play awful, he just didn't play much.
  • This team still has no identity. At this point, I'm not sure they can manufacture one, but who knows?

Needless to say, this loss frustrates me a lot. I hate to see a team come out and make such a mess of a promising game. What I haven't come to grips with, and what I daresay most of us are struggling with is how genuinely awful this team is at times. Even when they lost, the 2011 team was never genuinely awful, and this team has been awful at least seven or eight halves this year. That's hard to get used to.

With that said, I want to point out a couple of things. These are our players, for good or ill. We do not tolerate player bashing at all in this community, and that is all there is to say about that. It is certainly okay to criticize their play, but we have to understand that these guys are young, and they are just not as good as we hoped, or if they are, it doesn't show up in their team play, which is the most important thing as far as the season is concerned. That's not a crime, and it's not something that will do any damage to the program or to the image of Kentucky. Every school, even the best of them, has a team that doesn't live up to expectations now and then, and keep in mind, the season is a long way from over.

Realistically, making the NCAA tournament at any seed level is going to be challenging, but not impossible or even particularly unlikely for this team. Yes, this loss hurts the cause, but good things can still happen. Even if they don't, this has been an incredible run that fans of any program would be proud of, so let's all remember who we are and that nothing is guaranteed. Let Calipari coach the team, and let's be fans and cheer them, even when they disappoint us.

Finally, lets live in the precious present and not give up on our basketball team. Good fans never do that, and I know Kentucky fans are good fans. We have to show the kind of toughness that this team lacks. It's really hard to criticize them for a lack of toughness and presence of mind when we lose our composure when things don't go our way.

So now, it's back to the drawing board. The good news is, this team doesn't have enough experience to get too down on themselves, so they will probably bounce back and play better. To be honest, they could play quite a bit better than the second half of this game and still lose, but that's the way the basketball bounces. I am just as frustrated as all of you that these young men can't seem to do the most fundamental things right sometimes, and often at the most critical time. Last year's team had that skill in spades, and this year's team seems to lack it at this point. Perhaps all that will change. It may not. Either way, there's nothing more to say except:

Go, 'Cats!

Next up: LSU Tigers at home.

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