After an impressive victory against the LSU Tigers on Friday night, the Kentucky Wildcats reprised that game with another convincing win over the Georgia Bulldogs. While I think most of the Big Blue Nation would say that the Wildcats played better against LSU than Georgia, I don't think there are any among us who would want either game back, they were both far better than the month-long diet of ugly we were forced to live on from February 8th to March 8th.
Mark Fox has himself a pretty good team down in Athens, and although the Dawgs are likely NIT-bound this season, they look a whole lot better next season. Georgia gets back their entire team next year other than one lone senior, and Georgia fans are likely to be rewarded with a team that could challenge for the SEC regular season title if they stay healthy. The development of J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker is clearly ahead of schedule, and I see nothing but good times for Georgia basketball fans in the future. Great effort from the Dawgs, and we wish them well in whatever post-season tournament they wind up in.
Overall, I thought this was a so-so effort by Kentucky, and the stats bear that out. The Wildcats didn't play particularly well defensively, at times the offense seemed stuck in neutral, and once again the Wildcats struggled to put the ball into the basket from two feet and in. I can't imagine what a dangerous team this will be if they can start making their layups and free throws. This is another game that shows the inconsistency of the Wildcats in execution. They are very consistent rebounding the ball, and pretty consistent taking care of it, but shooting it and executing on both ends of the floor continues to be hit or miss.
Good grief, look at the free throw rate graph. How many times this season have we seen more than doubled up there? That, plus the fact Georgia made a good percentage, is the only reason this game was close.
Kentucky didn't play great defense, allowing Georgia to shoot 56% from 2-point range.
Turnovers weren't a problem, but they weren't a strength, either. 17.5% turnovers is too many for this team, and puts them in a position where a game that would otherwise be uncompetitive is suddenly a struggle.
Kentucky is still struggling to make 2-point shots close to the rim, particularly Julius Randle.
The 3-point shot was the hero today. UK filled it up from there, making 9 in only 18 attempts. That kind of shooting will beat anybody with an otherwise competent performance.
Less than 5% steals is a sad, pathetic number. UK really has to play better defensively against Florida.
50% free throw shooting is bad, even awful for this team.
Check out the defensive rebounding number — Kentucky claimed almost 90% of the available defensive rebounds. Georgia got only 3 OR's. That is beyond domination, it is nearly perfection.
Similarly, offensive rebounding was a massive win for Kentucky. They got almost 40% of their missed shots.
James Young really makes the offense go with his movement away from the ball. When he was out of the game, the offense sputtered.
Kentucky really struggles to guard the ball. We're probably going to have to zone more, and we should have zoned Georgia a lot more.
The fast break is running much better now. That's great to see.
Transition defense continues to improve. It will be very important today against Florida.
Aaron Harrison runs away with the game ball. He played his best game of the year today by far, and had zero turnovers to boot.
Andrew Harrison was a very close runner up. Andrew set another career high with nine (9!) assists backing up an eight assist effort yesterday. 3 turnovers marred an otherwise outstanding line.
Julius Randle continues his double-double streak with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but his shooting continues to be awful. 4-12 Friday and 4-10 yesterday is no good from where he takes them.
James Young had foul problems, but when the Wildcats got him back on the floor in the second half, Kentucky began to pull away. Young had a great game with 14 points in only 22 minutes and only 1 turnover.
Dakari Johnson had about as good a game as you can have while going 0-4 from the line. Eight rebounds in only 23 minutes is ridiculous. Dakari has become a genuine weapon.
Alex Poythress' struggles continue. He did some good things defensively, but once again, fouls took him to the bench early and he wasn't the same player after.
As good as Willie Cauley-Stein was on Friday, he was virtually invisible yesterday. He had one rebound, and one block that didn't show up in the box score.
Jarrod Polson gave some very good minutes and made a big 3-pointer on a sweet assist from one of the Harrisons.
Marcus Lee played, and almost got a tip-in. But what he should have done was grab the ball with both hands and put it in.
Brian Long, Derek Willis, E.J. Floreal and Jon Hood all got mop-up minutes.
Tying it all up
If this postmortem sounds negative, it is only so because Kentucky's statistics were not that great. I thought, though, that they played well enough offensively, and 1.23 points per possession is darn good. The thing is, it was mostly due to great 3-point shooting, and that is not where you want your efficiency to come from — you'd rather see it come from good 2-point shooting and made free throws. Of course, we don't get to pick, so I'm happy to see it show up no matter where it's from.
It was Kentucky's solid offensive efficiency that won this game, not their defense. Allowing opponents like Georgia, not exactly an offensive powerhouse, to go for over 1 point per possession is not a very good defensive effort, and if anything besides free throw shooting disappointed me yesterday, it was Kentucky's inability to stop Georgia from scoring, or fouling them on drives to the rim.
It was really great to see Aaron Harrison play with such confidence. I have seen his confidence growing in the last two games, and unfortunately, or fortunately, it seems that we are seeing the impact of identical twin psychology assert itself, and it's fascinating to watch its dynamic. As Andrew plays better, Aaron does also, and Aaron, the older brother seems tied to the success of his younger brother, not the reverse. Sometime later, when I have time, I'm going to search for statistical evidence of this perception to see if it's there. Identical twin psychology has always fascinated me.
But please pardon the digression. This was a big win for Kentucky, and they proved once again that they don't have to do everything well to overpower teams. Having said that, if Kentucky plays this game against Florida, they are likely going to lose. The Wildcats must do a better job defending the ball and making short shots. They have to make free throws, and take care of the ball. But we'll get to that directly.
I'll leave you with this to ponder — are we seeing the Wildcats begin to peak, to reach a significant portion of their potential? Did this game convince you that Kentucky has begun to play the kind of basketball we all expected back in January? And finally, will it be enough?
We'll have another data point to add in a few hours.