Well, this was a game that Kentucky didn't need to lose, but they did anyway. The dark side of this game for Kentucky is that this places them in a tougher position to win that coveted #1 or #2 seed. Losing to Arkansas, a team that is significantly underrated (in my opinion) takes on the tenor of a fairly bad loss in a conference with few opportunities for good wins. But at this point, with unbeatens starting to fall (Wisconsin took a much worse loss, objectively, in Bloomington last night), it is possible that other teams may help elevate Kentucky back up to where they need to be to get a top 2 seed.
Congratulations to the Arkansas Razorbacks, they deserve credit for a win they needed at home. Losing this one would have hurt their NCAA Tournament résumé a lot more than Kentucky's was hurt, mainly because it was a home game. They played like a desperate team, and in the end, made just enough plays to come away with the win. Another good thing is that this may put the Arkansas-Kentucky rivalry back on the map.
For Kentucky, I am having a hard time being too down about this one. Yes, things went wrong, yes, the officials were awful for the game on both sides, yes, they probably hurt Kentucky more. None of that matters. You have to treat the officials like part of the game, and if that part of the game is against you, you have to find a way to overcome it. It isn't as though they made calls that directly led to Kentucky's loss, it was just an accumulation of poor officiating. Dana O'Neil said it best in a tweet that I retweeted with a little commentary:
Tweet don't lie. RT @ESPNDanaOneil: Bigger picture: I'm not sure these officials will be busy in March— A Sea of Blue (@ASeaOfBlue) January 15, 2014
Anyway, you have to let the officiating go. Kentucky had every chance to win this game and simply didn't because Arkansas played like a desperate team and Kentucky just wasn't desperate enough. Don't get me wrong, I though the Wildcats played well, and in many areas, extremely well. But playing well doesn't always get you the W, and this is the archetype of that truism.
You have to love the effort you saw from both teams tonight. They were diving into the seats after lose balls, fighting hard for every possession.
The Harrison twins have got to stop wearing their disappointment after a play goes against them on their sleeves. Just play. When you express every imperfect outcome with an angry head shake or expression, it infects your teammates. Just act like you've been there before.
I thought Kentucky fought and scrapped better tonight than in any other game I have seen them play. If (and I use that word advisedly) they can keep it up, we may have just witnessed the birth of something special.
They took this loss hard. Good. That gives me hope.
Communication is still a problem. No matter who's fault the last play was (we have had a long-running debate, but I am resigned to just call it a team breakdown), a little communication from any of the players would have solved it. These guys have got to stop watching the game and play the game. For the most part, they did, but those little breakdowns at crunch time can kill you.
I am at a loss for why Kentucky turned the ball over so much. They handled the pressure pretty well, but 17 turnovers (21.5%) will get you beat in a close game every time. In fact, you can safely say that turnovers cost Kentucky this game.
Free throw shooting is not improving. I may be wrong about that, I though it would. Still, 65% is usually good enough to win, but combined with the turnover problem, it was the kiss of death.
Free throws rarely beat you in isolation if you shoot over 60%. But when you shoot them at that level, lots of other things become problematic. 21.5% turnovers is bad, but not loathsome. Combined with the substandard FT shooting, though, the combination put Arkansas in a position to win. Shoot 70% from the line, or be under 20% turnovers, and Kentucky probably wins this game be 4-6 points.
The Las Vegas line will make some conspiracy theorists put on their tinfoil hats.
I love how Kentucky responded to adversity in this game. They just ran out of time for responses, and therein lies the problem. The Wildcats were too reactive in this game, and did not ever manage to keep a lead for a significant time. You can't "just play" out there, you have to have a sense of the game and a desire to dominate.
You see this in racehorses all the time. Horses with a sense of the moment get in duels and win them. Lesser horses duel to the end, then yield. Kentucky has got to duel from a position of dominance, not be reactionary. Do they have enough time, and enough savvy, to get to that point by the end of the year? I don't know, and neither do you, dear reader.
Kentucky crushed Arkansas on the offensive glass. This Kentucky team is the most physical squad since 2010, and probably even more physical that Patrick Patterson and the Big Cuz.
If this had been last year's team, in this game, Kentucky would have lost by 30. I'm just saying. Those guys were shrinking violets compared to this version of the Wildcats.
Kentucky won 3 of the Four Factors to Winning and still lost. That's as rare as hen's teeth.
I'm just going to put up the box score rather than recite it in the text. A lot of players played, and I have to go to work sometime this morning. Here it is, courtesy of KenPom.com.
Alex Poythress was a full-grown man in this game. He did almost everything well, including having zero turnovers and 2 blocks. Look at that 167 offensive rating. Game ball, Alex. Heck of a game, young man.
James Young had a fantastic game except for one thing: Turnovers. you are going to hear this a lot. Also, a shooter of Young's caliber should not miss three out of eight free throws. I'll note that one of them was when he was really tired, so UK needs to practice shooting FT's when they are out of breath. It's a totally different thing.
Also noteworthy was Young's terrific shot to tie the game just before UK lost. That was big time. But we have to note his failure one the last play, and the three turnovers. Still, on balance, this was a game he can be proud of.
Andrew Harrison shot the ball poorly, and missed way too many easy ones. But he made the shot that sent it into overtime, and that was a huge, cold-blooded three. Five turnovers, though, make this game hard to recommend as one of his best, not to mention his involvement in the breakdown that led to the loss. Six assists is pretty good, but with the turnovers, it looks less impressive.
Julius Randle was simply a beast out there. He returned to Michigan St. form, and absolutely dominated every possession he was involved in. On the negative side, he has to shoot better than 5-11 from where he shoots the ball, that's really not too good. He should have had 30-14 rather than 20-14. Also, five turnovers. This guy is a turnover machine, and that has to be addressed somehow.
Randle made his free throws.
Willie Cauley-Stein just didn't show up today. He was in foul trouble the whole time and never was an offensive threat. He did have 6 rebounds, which is a lot for only 18 minutes of play, but he fouled out of the game, although to be fair, that blocking foul at the end was a completely bogus call.
Aaron Harrison did some good things, especially when he was attacking the rim. He made his free throws, and he didn't turn the ball over that much. Overall, you have to take this game from Aaron and be happy with it.
Jarrod Polson played well in a lot of minutes, but he still struggles to defend more athletic players, although I must say he did a serviceable job of it against the Hawgs. The foul they called on the rebound against him was easily the most obviously wrong call of the whole game. Heck, he even had a block!
Marcus Lee played a lot of minutes, but he did two things that hurt Kentucky — threw an elbow that got him a flagrant one, and missed 3 out of 4 free throws, and none of the misses were even close.
Dakari Johnson played pretty well, I thought, particularly on defense. But like Lee, his free throw shooting really hurt us.
Dominique Hawkins did not play enough minutes, in my view. Maybe it was the apparently minor injury he suffered in the first half, but Calipari also said he should have had Hawkins in at the end of the game. Not sure what happened there, but I think Calipari should have had him in a lot more than 5 minutes with all the foul trouble our guards had.
Overall, this is just a loss, but it's one that will be remembered. It would probably be worth it if it reignites the old UK-Arkansas rivalry, and I would not mind seeing Arkansas rise back to prominence in the SEC, it would only help the league; not at Kentucky's expense, though.
I think, but do not know, that this loss can be used as a foundation to launch a high-quality campaign for the rest of the season. I hope so. Kentucky needs to win almost all of its remaining regular-season games to have a shot at a top two seed. With that said, I am beginning to think that, for this team, the seed might not matter much. There is nobody in college basketball that I would be afraid to play at any point in the tournament.
Another encouraging sign is that the team is getting better. It's taking a lot longer than any of us would like, but it is happening.
Administrative note: Quickies will happen sometime this morning. Please avoid putting news items in here that are not directly relevant to this game - use the other post-game thread for those until I have time to get Quickies up. Thanks for your understanding. Now excuse me while I change the toothpicks that are holding up my eyelids ...