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UNC Asheville 57, Kentucky Wildcats 89: Postmortem

The Wildcats looked out of sorts in the first half, but in the second, they were indomitable.

Alex Poythress turned some heads tonight.
Alex Poythress turned some heads tonight.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Well. That happened. Seriously, did you expect that a team who had achived a barely-double-digit lead in the first half to explode to a 32-point blasting? I expected the blasting, but I didn't expect to have to wait until the second half to get it.

Congratulations to the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs. I was concerned about their large margin of victory over a Division II team in their lone exhibition, and that concern was absolutely justified. They are a very well-coach team, and their young head coach is, in my view, quite possibly a star in the making. This team played very good fundamental basketball. The new foul rules and Kentucky's ridiculous talent, athleticism and depth made an upset virtually impossible. But kudos to them for the fine effort, and never mind the score. That was dictated by circumstances beyond their control. They have a solid team that will only get better.

As for Kentucky, we saw exactly what we should expect — good and bad. The defensive intensity was much better than any game so far this season, but the offensive execution still stinks. Honestly, I was surprised to see the offense no better than it was with such talent, but ... well, I guess we'll have to wait, but the potential is most certainly there.

Team observations

  • Team? No. Still just a collection of talent, an AAU all-star team if you will.

  • This group may be many things, but selfish is not one of them.

  • I really like the improvement in the defensive intensity. It still has breakdowns, break-offs, lapses and downright suckage. But there was some good there that we haven't seen until now.

  • Wow, this team is deep. I knew they were deep, but this game, where the fouls really mean things, showed me what "deep" really means.

  • 27.3% from three is not good enough for this team.

  • 30-48 free throws (62.5%) is remarkable considering the first half.

Individual observations

  • I pondered, but I cannot decide. Game ball to Marcus Lee, Julius Randle, Alex Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein. Never, ever before have four players shared this honor, but these guys just have little to separate them. WCS had a totally Anthony Davis-esque line of 3 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks and a partridge in a freaking pear tree. Randle had 23 points and 15 rebounds. Poythress had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and the reason he's included is that was an unexpected output from him. Marcus Lee? Get this: 17 points in 15 minutes and a rebound. You just have to love all four of them.

  • James Young had a good game, but he needs to shoot better from the floor. 3-10 is just not good enough.

  • Aaron Harrison was not much better, shooting-wise, at 3-8, but he had 4 (!) steals and a block.

  • Andrew Harrison had 5 assists and 1 turnover t go with 8 points. Not bad at all, but he looked out of shape to me. Not surprising given his injury.

  • Jon Hood did a lot of good things out there, and his assist to Marcus Lee belongs on SportsCenter.

  • Dakari Johnson was impressive at times, but he is very much an offensive player. He really isn't very good at all defensively. Not yet.

  • Jarrod Polson didn't make an impact on the stat sheet, but he played pretty well.

  • Derek Willis played, but not much. He got a rebound and made a couple of free throws.

I can't wait to see the advanced stats on this game, but for now, it was a victory, and a convincing one. If you told me before tip-off we would win by 32 points, I'd have taken it.

Yes, there are many, many flaws but it's very, very early. I was very much encouraged by the new attention to defense, however insufficient it was technically. Effort-wise, it was a big improvement.

Just a reminder that an increased focus on defense will often cause an inefficient offense, especially early in the season. I really think that's what we saw tonight, but honestly, I'll take the trade-off. Kentucky really hamstrung the Bulldogs with fouls by their constant forays to the basket, however poorly executed some of them were. And the depth simply wore them down to nothing.

That will be one formula for victory this season. Hopefully, another will be much better play on both ends of the floor.