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Kentucky 81, Eastern Michigan 63: Postmortem

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The No. 3 ranked Kentucky Wildcats, taking on the undefeated Eastern Michigan Eagles, appeared to grow up a bit in the contest, displaying a dedication to defense, and a much more patient approach on the offensive end.

UK's Willie Cauley-Stein played a man-sized game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
UK's Willie Cauley-Stein played a man-sized game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Andy Lyons

In a season where inconsistency early on seems to be the rule (and should be expected), the Kentucky Wildcats on this day put together a solid outing after the first five minutes of the contest, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, against an Eastern Michigan team with a legitimate shot at challenging for the Mid-American Conference title. UK, coming away with an 81-63 victory in the Keightley Classic finale, played a much better brand of defense than Wildcat fans have witnessed thus far this year, and in the second half effectively attacked EMU's 2-3 with ball reversal and penetration.

The Eagles, coached ably by longtime Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy (not to be confused with the former Cincinnati Reds pitcher), came into this game with high-flying shooting and defensive stats, and although EMU put forth a great effort, Kentucky's second half turn on was too much for his club to handle.

Team Superlatives and Disappointments

  • Coming into the game, the Eagles were shooting 48.9 percent from the floor, and 45.2 percent from 3-point range. The 'Cats responded to coaching by being very active on the defensive end, interrupting the passing lanes, and closing on the very dangerous EMU long-range shooters. The result, UK held Eastern Michigan to only 36.4 percent overall field goal shooting (24-66) and 21.1 percent 3-point accuracy (4-19).
  • Bolstering UK's defensive numbers was the aggressive coverage given EMU's top two scorers, Ward Karrington (18.2 points per game) and Raven Lee (18.0 ppg). Coming into the game, the highest flying Eagles combined to make 18-of-32 three-point shots, but today were limited to 0-of-6 from distance, and 3-of-18 overall shooting.
  • Kentucky once again crashed the boards with purpose, out-rebounding EMU 52-33. The Eagles recorded 12 offensive rebounds on 42 missed shots (28.6 percent), while UK countered with 19 offensive boards -- leading to 23 second chance points -- on 33 misses (57.6 percent).
  • Showing that rebounding was a team effort: four Wildcats snagged at least seven rebounds on the night.
  • The free throw line was kind to the 'Cats today, as UK connected on 28-of-40 from the charity stripe (70.0 percent). Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, UK's two centers, combined to make 5-of-11 from the line, with the remainder of the 'Cats being true on 23-of-29 from the line for an exceptional 79.3 percent.
  • Sharpshooter Darell Combs was the only Eagle who managed to score over nine points, as he checks in with 23 points for the day.
  • After being up only 35-32 at the half, UK attacked the tough EMU 2-3 zone much more effectively in the second half, and also began to push the ball up the floor more aggressively, resulting in a 46-31scoring advantage for the 'Cats.
  • Unfortunately, the turnover bug reappeared wearing blue and white, with the Cats committing 20 miscues on the afternoon (while dishing out only 11 assists).

Individual Superlatives and Disappointments

  • Today, 'Cat fans, it was all about Willie Cauley-Stein. It's hard to articulate just how far WCS has come since last year. The strides he's made on both ends of the floor are a testament to his hard work and dedication to getting better, as well as the great coaching he is receiving from UK assistant coach Kenny Payne. Against EMU, WCS played 25 minutes, making 6-of-12 field goals, grabbing eight rebounds (three offensive), swatting a career-high seven shots (he is averaging 3.1 blocks per game for the season), with two assists and one steal thrown in for good measure. He was only 3-of-7 from the line, but his free throw shooting on the season is much improved over last season.
  • Aaron Harrison, who played 37 minutes, put together a nice game, scoring 22 points on 5-of-12 shooting (3-7 from distance), connecting on 9-of-11 free throws, with two assists and nary a turnover. Harrison arrived at UK with the reputation of being an above average outside shooter, but it's his ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop which is at the moment making him one of the most dangerous 'Cats on the offensive end.
  • James Young struggled with his shot today, connecting on only 1-of-8 shots from the field, and missing all six of his 3-point attempts. Since making 5-of-10 from long-range against Texas-Arlington two games ago, Young has made only 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. Young, though, did not allow his tough shooting day to adversely affect the rest of his game, as he grabbed six boards, dished out a team-high four assists, and connected on 4-of-5 free throws. He did commit five turnovers, a number which needs to be reduced by half.
  • Julius Randle found himself on the bench from the 11:12 mark of the first half until halftime, as he committed two early fouls. Limited to 22 minutes, Randle still managed his seventh consecutive double-double, posting 14 points on 5-of-10 field goal shooting, and corralling 10 rebounds (six offensive). Randle made all four of his free throws, but once again turnovers haunted the big man all day, as he recorded five turns for the second consecutive game. Randle is now averaging a turnover every 7.7 minutes of floor time. An alarming rate. Although he made a couple of nice passes out of double-teams, Randle is still reticent to pass the ball once he gets into the low post, opting to power the ball to the rim, when a nice inside-outside game was called for. Blame youth. Blame ego. Blame whatever, but if he is to help UK reach its monstrous potential, he must accept the fact that sometimes even he needs to not bogart the ball.
  • Andrew Harrison also found himself in a bit of foul trouble which limited his minutes to 26. In those 26 minutes, Harrison connected on 2-of-6 from the field, 4-of-5 from the line, and dished out three assists (he would have had at least two more assists if his teammates were able to make layups). After recording only five turnovers the previous three games, Harrison committed five miscues on the afternoon, mostly on over-penetration, something he will grow out of in time.
  • In 23 minutes of play, Alex Poythress rebounded the ball well, recording six boards, but offensively AP did not assert himself, which follows a season-long trend: After attempting 16 shots in UK's first two games of the year, Poythress has took only 20 shots in the five games since. He is, though, providing UK with defensive energy, and he has been an aggressive rebounder (AP is averaging 7.6 rebounds in only 19.0 minutes of playing time).
  • Dakari Johnson, in only 10 minutes of action, made 4-of-5 field goals and snagged seven boards (four offensive), netting 10 points on the day. Johnson, regardless of his minutes played, is becoming a very active performer, particularly on the glass, and is developing that unexplainable nose-for-the-ball. Those types of players are always valuable and John Calipari has to be becoming more and more comfortable with putting Johnson on the floor. If not for the greatly improved play of Cauley-Stein, Johnson would see more minutes, but for the moment, it is nice to have a backup center capable of putting up respectable numbers and guarding the rim.
  • Marcus Lee once again earned a starting nod, playing eight minutes and grabbing three rebounds and swatting one shot.
  • Dominique Hawkins had his most uneven game of the season, as the Madison Central product seemed discombobulated while on the floor. He missed his only shot (a 3-pointer), had one board, one point, and one turn.
  • Jarrod Polson played two minutes and did not impact the box score.
  • Finally, Ashley Judd got about two-and-a-half minutes of floor time, as she escorted the birthday boy, former UK coach Joe B. Hall, to center court as the two formed the "Y." Happy Birthday, coach Hall!!

And to all of the Big Blue Nation, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!