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Maui Championship: UConn 84, UK 67 -- Postmortem

Congratulations to the soon-to-be-ranked Connecticut Huskies (5-0) for winning the 2010 EA Sports Maui Invitational ... in resounding, dominating fashion.

Looking like a veteran team, the Huskies totally took the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats (4-1) out of their offensive game-plan with sticky man-to-man, pressure defense (staples of Jim Calhoun-coached teams).  And that fact, coupled with the John Wall-like play of junior point guard Kemba Walker, as well as a total lack of interior defense by the 'Cats, propelled the deserving Huskies to an 84-67 route over the boys in blue.

For the game particulars (and if ones stomach can handle the ugly truth), follow me after the jump:

The 'Cats looked young, played young, and got beat like they were young.  It's probably not the last time this year something like this will happen, but let's hope, as they gain experience, games such as these become less and less frequent.  (And yes, this is the second time in five games the 'Cats have "played down to their age and experience," the other being against Oklahoma on Monday night)

The easiest and most succinct way to describe Kentucky's woeful defensive effort against UConn is to say the 'Cats didn't react to penetration.  As in the Oklahoma game two nights earlier, the UK interior defense was non-existent, due to (as a team), not stopping the man driving to the rim.  There was no help given, and no stepping out to cut-off the drive, resulting in a night-long Huskie layup clinic.  Want proof?  Exhibit A: How about the game-deciding stat of the night: UConn 42 points in the paint; UK, 24.  Exhibit B: A direct result of UConn's ability to get to the rim (and make easy shots) is the tremendous disparity in field goal shooting for the teams -- UConn was 30-52 (57.7%) from the floor, while UK forced shots, most times outside the realm of the offense (only six assists on 22 made baskets), on the way to 36.7% field goal accuracy (22-60).  When a team makes only 37% of their field goals (which of course happens from time to time), then that same team simply must play all-out, leave-it-on-the-floor defense (executed properly), to have any chance of winning the game.  Youth, there's only one cure: Time.

Brandon Knight stat line: 3-15 field goals, six points, five assists, five turnovers, and five fouls.  Knight, tonight, like his earlier two games in Maui, played like a rookie point guard  -- Over-penetrating, not knowing what to do with the ball after over-penetrating, and making more defensive mistakes than one can count.  Along the way, he infuriated his head coach with a couple of silly, totally avoidable fouls.  But, Knight is a great talent, and will bounce back from this setback (or was it growing pains?), and deliver like the champion that he is.

Terrence Jones is just ... spectacular.  But one man, a good team cannot beat.  Jones ended the night with 24 points on 6-11 shooting (4-4 from beyond the arc) and two rebounds.  Jones did, though, commit five fouls in 27 minutes of play; UK needed him on the floor for 37 minutes, not 27, but it wouldn't have mattered on this night.  The 'Cats were doomed to defeat regardless.  It's difficult for me to articulate how excited I am for Jones to be wearing a Kentucky jersey.  He has a chance to be a very special player.

The combination of Eloy Vargas and Josh Harrellson gave the 'Cats 44 minutes of play, six points (all by Vargas), 12 rebounds (about six or seven too few on this night), four blocks, zero turnovers, and 4-4 free throw shooting (all by Vargas).  I thought Vargas far outplayed Harrellson on this night, especially on the defensive end of the court.  Vargas was aggressive, when Harrellson failed to rotate to help on several occasions (as well as being out of position, by a long way, on a sweet down screen in the first half) allowing several lay-ins opportunities for a variety of Huskie players.  Both of UK's big men need to continue to improve (baby steps, baby), and if they can somehow combine for 10-15 points per game, to go along 10-12 rebounds per game, and play solid defense (which has been an "iffy" proposition to this point in the year), the 'Cats should be able to compete with anyone.  But, when those things don't happen (against good teams), games like the loss the 'Cats just took squarely on the chin, will be much more likely to happen.

Neither Darius Miller (who played only 29 minutes due to foul trouble), nor DeAndre Liggins shot the ball very well, (combining to make only 9-24 shots), neither defended particularly well, combined for only seven rebounds in 67 minutes of action, and generally didn't step-up as the leaders they should be evolving into.  They were, though, in a tough position, kind of like a man standing at the base of a mountain, looking fearfully at the avalanche racing toward him.

Come to think of it, the entire team had that look tonight, for a large portion of the night.  Perhaps fatigue set in, perhaps the previous night against Washington they used-up the emotion a team needs to compete against an opponent amped to the gills.  Whatever the reason for the lackluster performance ...  

The 'Cats simply must learn that everything they do, and hope to do, starts with defense and rebounding.  When that light bulb comes on, they will improve dramatically.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!