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LSU Tigers 70, Kentucky Wildcats, 75: Postmortem

Kentucky barely escapes a game LSU team that simply out-quicked Kentucky the whole second half.

Alex Poythress had a big game today, and Kentucky need it to win.
Alex Poythress had a big game today, and Kentucky need it to win.

This is the kind of thing you always fear -- a weak team with a chip on their shoulder coming into Rupp Arena and having one of their best games of the year from 3-point range. Not only that, the LSU Tigers exposed the Wildcats' ballhandling, forcing 16 turnovers and nearly putting Kentucky fans out of their season-long misery as far as NCAA hopes go.

Congratulations to LSU, they did the only thing they could do, undermanned as they are. They brought in all their little guys, had them slapping at every ball, and pried it loose from Kentucky 7 times. Kentucky gave it to them an additional 9 times, and LSU made the most of them, knocking down 40% from three with 8 made shots, more than 10 percentage points above their average in SEC play. LSU's tiny, quick guards frustrated Kentucky on the perimeter, and lived in Kentucky's passing lanes, making a game that had a nearly 17-point line for Kentucky into a nail-biter that was far closer than the 5-point margin.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, it's time to come to the realization, in case there are a few among us that haven't yet, is that this Kentucky team is very unlikely to do anything significant this year. The back court is simply too fragile, and too disjointed to ever work. Archie Goodwin played a better game today, but it was far from what Kentucky needs. Ryan Harrow... well, more on that later. But as a group, the backcourt of this basketball team is the worst we have seen at UK in many years. Maybe they will get better, but honestly, there just isn't enough season left in my opinion.

The front court, on the other hand, played relatively well. UK shot 52% for the game, despite a typically loathsome 18% from the arc. UK simply has no reliable shooting from the perimeter, and even Kyle Wiltjer, who has been playing better overall of late, did not scratch from outside.

Player observations:

  • Alex Poythress had his best SEC game as a Wildcat with a double-double -- 20 points on 6-9 shooting, 8-9 from the line, 12 rebounds (4 offensive) 1 steal and only 1 turnover. He's still a touch foul prone, but this was the kind of game we have been wanting from him all year. Game ball.
  • Nerlens Noel was about the same as he always is. He had 10 points on 4-5 shooting, 8 rebounds (2 offensive), 2 assists, 1 steal (should be 2), and 6 blocks. On the negative side, he had 4 turnovers, tied with turnover machine Archie Goodwin for team high. Good game, not a great game.
  • Speaking of Goodwin, he was better this game, but still far from good enough. 5-12 shooting, only 5-9 from the line for 15 points, 5 rebounds including 3 big offensive boards. 2 assists, 1 steal and 4 turnovers. I loved Archie's effort defensively for most of the game, but he had some breakdowns that led to big baskets for LSU, especially that last one by Anthony Hickey.
  • As good as Ryan Harrow was playing 3 or 4 games ago, he is playing that bad now. He and Goodwin have a bizarre tendency to take the same number of shots every game, both making a low percentage. 11 points on 5-11 shooting, 1 rebound, 1 assist (1 assist from your point guard -- totally illustrative of his problems), 2 turnovers. I thought he was just barely adequate defensively.
  • Julius Mays was fine. He is a bit of a defensive liability, especially today, because he was either too slow or too small to guard anybody, and LSU exploited him relentlessly. He did shoot it well, making 3 of 6 for 9 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers, although he did miss a late free throw that is uncharacteristic of him. Overall, he helped the team.
  • Kyle Wiltjer had a good first half, but seemed to disappear in the second half. Almost all his statistics were garnered in the first half. 8 points on 3-8 from the field, 0-3 from the arc, 3 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 assist, 2 turnovers. Defensively, Wiltjer played very well for him, but overall, he wasn't as good as he has been by quite a lot. But he did make the game-clinching free throws, so there's that.

Team Observations:

  • This team still has no idenity.
  • Our backcourt truly stinks. They have no cohesion, no confidence, and they don't do anything particularly well.
  • Why did we quit going to Wiltjer in the post... again? Is it Calipari? Is it Wiltjer, or the team, global warming, peak oil, the national debt, what?
  • 7 team assists is weak.
  • UK did a good job on the boards, but they were playing one of the smallest teams in the SEC.
  • LSU got up 11 more shots than UK did, and an eFG% of around 46% makes that a dangerous, dangerous thing.
  • What was the last pick and roll lob Kentucky made this year? Yeah, I can't think of the last one either.

Look, we won. Yes, it's hard to celebrate because this is one of, if not the, weakest team in the SEC and Kentucky barely won, at home. Are there positives? Yes, Pothress' play and the fact we won the game. That's about it.

Negatives? Incohesiveness, incoherence, incompetence at many parts of the game, an inchoate team that is vulnerable to everybody. That's an unfamiliar position, Kentucky fans, but one we find ourselves in right now.