Belmont Bruins 80, Kentucky Wildcats 93:  Postmortem

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky gets a solid win against a good Belmont team. It wasn't as easy as the score suggests, but it was a very good win.

Kentucky wound up defeating the Belmont Bruins rather comfortably, 93-80, but the game itself was anything but comfortable. There were some things to like in this game, some things to dislike, but overall, more good than bad.

A hearty thanks to Belmont for the outstanding effort. They came in knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and they played in a way that gave them the best chance to win. In the first half, it looked at one point like they were going to take Kentucky's heart from them by shooting lights-out from the arc, but they simply weren't able to sustain that remarkable level of performance. Still, they were very competitive all the way through the game, and earlier in the season probably would have come out with the upset.

Kentucky showed some grit in this game, and it was very good to see. It wasn't the only positive, but it was a very noticeable one, something that every Wildcats fan has been looking to see in this team.

Team Observations

  • As a team, Kentucky continues to shoot the 3-point shot very poorly. There really is no reason for this, as there are numerous good shooters on this basketball team. I tink it is mostly a confidence thing. No matter what it is, we need to see improvement.

  • Kentucky continues to shoot the ball well as a team from 2-point range. 55% for the game is a great number from inside the arc.

  • Kentucky didn't exactly hold Belmont down, allowing them to shoot 47% from inside the arc and 38% outside.

  • Slow starts are a serious problem for this team. Kentucky has got to learn how to get an early lead, and they have struggled to do that all season. Belmont had an 11 point lead and held on to most of it until inside 3 minutes from the half.

  • The Wildcats were absolutely dominant on the offensive glass. They more than doubled up the Bruins in that statistic.

  • Kentucky continues to dominate the Free Throw Rate statistic, getting to the line 36 times. Tonight, they made a very solid 72%

  • The Wildcats showed in the second half that they can defend teams determined to shoot a lot of threes. There were a couple of really poor breakdowns, and Belmont missed more open shots than I thought they would, but overall, 3-point defense in the second half was very good.

  • Post entry passes were much cleaner today, even though there weren't that many of them.

  • The Wildcats took very good care of the ball today, managing only 10% turnovers. UK will win a lot of games with that few turnovers.

Individual Observations

  • Julius Randle was a man today, completely indefensible by Belmont. Kentucky fed the beast, and the beast delivered. Belmont had absolutely no answers whatever for Randle. Whenever he wanted to, he either scored or got fouled.

    Randle was 8-10 shooting the ball, 13-19 from the line, 10 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 block. Randle gets the game beast ball.

  • Willie Cauley-Stein continues his outstanding play. Today, he was much more of an offensive threat, shooting 8-10 from the field, 7 rebounds, an assist, a turnover and 2 blocks. One of them was a huge block of a corner three during a critical point in the game.

  • James Young had a very quiet game for him, managing only 6 points, missing double-digit scoring for only the 4th time this season and had only 2 rebounds for the game. Not his best effort, and he only played 20 minutes, the fewest this season.

  • Aaron Harrison just keeps getting better. He did a lot of nice things today, including 23 points on 7-16 shooting. He was only 1-5 from from the arc, though, and that needs to get better. Harrison had 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 turnover, 1 block and 1 steal. He was a very narrow runner-up to Randle for game honors, and this was one of his better games all season.

  • Andrew Harrison had another foul-plagued affair, and this has become a genuine problem for him. A point guard cannot get any sense of rhythm when he only gets 20 minutes.

    It's also worth noting that the team seemed to run better with him out of the game for much of the time, although near the end of the game, he was much better. Harrison had 7 points, 2 rebounds, no assists, 2 turnovers.

  • Marcus Lee saw 10 minutes but didn't really impact the score sheet other than a couple of rebounds and a turnover. He gave up a three that really got me (and probably John Calipari as well) exercised, as it was just a matter of putting up his hands.

  • Alex Poythress played more minutes than Young, and although he didn't score a lot, he did some good things out there. Poythress was 3-6 from the field, scoring 7 points, and had 5 rebounds and an assist. It was a solid game from a player who seems to be on the rise — finally.

  • I really loved what Jarrod Polson brought to the game today. He was not athletically disadvantaged by Belmont, and as such, he was a very stabilizing factor on offense. He also hit a really big 3-point shot at an important juncture, and generally played well. He gave up a three because he failed to understand the proper defense for Belmont, but he mostly played well. Three ponts on 1-2 shooting 1 assist and zero turnovers. He also played a season-high 21 minutes, more than Andrew Harrison.

  • Dominque Hawkins had yet another good game today, logging 22 minutes. Raise your hand if you thought, at the beginning of the season, Hawkins would be such an integral member of this team given Calipari's history of playing few players.

    Anyway, Hawkins wound up with 2 points on 1-3 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, a turnover and a steal. He defended very well and gave maximum effort, just as he always does.

  • Derek Willis made a cameo, but either Calipari didn't like what he saw, or he just preferred others. He had one rebound in 3 minutes of play.

  • Dakari Johnson didn't play, by design. Calipari said in his post-game remarks that Johnson just didn't have anyone to guard, and it was unfair to put him in. I think he's right.

Final words

Overall, this was a "step in the right direction" game that demonstrated the Wildcats are improving. There were several times when Kentucky played impressive defense, and other times where they broke down and allowed Belmont to do exactly what they wanted. Particularly in the first half, Kentucky allowed Belmont far too many clean looks from the perimeter.

To their credit, this UK team showed some real fight in this game. Instead of folding into incoherency and risking a loss, the Wildcats got better and better, and just wore down the smaller and less talented Belmont team. We could describe the effort as more or less workmanlike, but workmanlike efforts have been darn few this season. I'm actually quite happy to see one.

So now comes the big question: Is Kentucky ready for the Louisville Cardinals? Aside from the irrelevance of that question (ready or not, here they come), I think they are about as ready as they are going to be except for the week of practice they will have in the interregnum between now and next Saturday. We'll have plenty of time to talk about that later this coming week.

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