Providence Friars 65 at Kentucky Wildcats, 79:  Postmortem

This attempt was not going to be successful. Not many in WCS's reach tonight were. - Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats continue to improve, and it was evident against a solid Providence team tonight.

Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats went up to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, and took on the Providence Friars from the Big East in a game that was reckoned to be a tough one for UK, and it certainly was.

Providence gave a great effort, but it came up short. Kentucky was just too big, too talented and too deep for the Friars, who eventually wore down and were buried under a fusillade of Wildcat points. The Friars gave a fine account of themselves and beat Kentucky soundly on the offensive glass, but the fact is that the Friars never lead in the game.

For Kentucky, this was a very good effort on most levels. I think the Wildcats really showed their improvement in several key areas, and seem to be on a nice upward trajectory that will hopefully lead to some even bigger victories down the road. There are certainly no shortage of opportunities ahead, including the Baylor Bears, the North Carolina Tar Heels, and the Louisville Cardinals just to name a few.

Full game stats here.

Team observations

  • Transition offense was vastly improved tonight. I'm not sure what changed, and perhaps it's nothing more than experience, but the running game tonight was dominant.

  • Transition defense still needs improvement, but we are seeing some, and that's definitely a good thing.

  • I thought the half-court offense was mostly excellent tonight. There are still a few things, like getting the ball into the middle of the zone and kicking the ball out to open shooters that needs work, but all things considered, it was a good effort there.

  • Half-court defense still had some breakdowns, but the players were much more active and much more focused in this game than any other. It was good to see. The breakdowns were jarring, but inevitable at this stage of the season.

  • This team is definitely forming an identity, and that is that they are deep, multidimensional, and capable of beating you inside or out, and prefer to go inside out. I like that style of basketball, and even though it isn't the DDM, this team is ill-suited to that offense not because they aren't good enough to run it, but because they are too good to run it. The DDM is designed to help teams with quicker players and good shooters. Teams as big and as good as this Kentucky team don't need help, they need to play traditional basketball, either a motion offense or just a plain post-up power game, which is mostly where we live.

    This year's team reminds me much more of 2009-10 than 2011-12, only unlike 2010, this team can absolutely shoot.

  • There is no excuse for getting creamed on the offensive glass by Providence, but that's what happened. Kentucky is bigger, stronger and better. They got outworked on the boards, and that needs to stop.

  • 76% from the line is a big plus. 75% from the arc is even better.

Player observations

  • Willie Cauley-Stein was incredible tonight, having his best game ever as a Wildcat. He was 7-8 from the field for 15 points, 1-1 from the line, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, only 1 turnover, 9 (!) blocks and a partridge in a pear tree. Game ball, and it isn't even close.

  • James Young had a good night, much better than might be immediately obvious. He was 5-7 from the field for 18 points, 3-4 from 3, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and 1 steal.

  • Aaron Harrison continues to play well, this time 7-9 from the field, 1-2 from the arc for 15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers.

  • Andrew Harrison, once again, was in foul trouble the first half and for most of the game. He had 8 points on perfect free throw shooting, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 3 turnovers.

  • Julius Randle had about as pedestrian a game as we could draw up for him. 12 points on 4-10 shooting, 4-7 from the line, 8 rebounds and 2 turnovers. The double-double streak is dead, but this was never about that.

  • Alex Poythress played 15 minutes and scored 5 points on 2-3 shooting. He had 2 blocks but only 1 rebound. Again, Alex kind of disappeared, but he had a couple of good moments.

  • Dominique Hawkins played really well tonight. He was 2-2 shooting the ball for 5 points, had a rebound, an assist and a steal. No turnovers. Really solid.

  • Dakari Johnson was not very effective tonight, for some reason. He was 1-2 from the line, got 3 rebounds and made one turnover.

  • Derek Willis played, but did not impact the box score. Marcus Lee, interestingly, never saw the floor. I wonder why?

Wrapping it all up

This was a very good game overall for Kentucky. For the most part, the Wildcats were efficient in a relatively low-possession game, shot a very high percentage from everywhere, defended well, showed off a much-improved transition game, and generally impressed. The offensive rebounding was a problem tonight, but it hasn't been all season and I expect it to get back to normal right away. Overall, there is really not much to criticize except for the kind of nit-picking stuff fans and bloggers do.

I loved the effort in this game on defense, though, and I think that is the second-biggest takeaway besides our really improved transition offense. If the Wildcats can run like this all year, they are going to really put some teams in a world of hurt. Providence is a quality team, and they gave us their best shot. It wasn't nearly enough.

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