Last night’s game against the Boston University Terriers wasn’t nearly as satisfying for Kentucky Wildcats fans as the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday. Kentucky cleary did not play as well on defense, and at times, the Wildcats looked on their heels and a bit confused. This early in the season, though, we are going to see moments of that. It is inevitable, and even though that’s disconcerting to the Big Blue Nation, it is part of the natural progression of a college basketball team.
Once again, I want to congratulate BU on a well-played game. They weren’t perfect, naturally, and some of the chippiness, hard fouls and technicals that they wound up suffering were simple self-inflicted wounds that hurt their chances to pull a major upset. This BU team, however, executed very well, and pretty consistently, on both offense and defense despite a significant physical disadvantage. They made challenged threes, they found ways to get offensive rebounds, they blocked out very well on the defensive glass even in a zone defense. That’s really, really hard to do, and it is worthy of both recognition and praise. If they play like this during the season in the Patriot League, they may well see Kentucky again in the NCAA Tournament. This was a well-coached and worthy foe.
This was an interesting game for Kentucky, and the statistics turn out to be a bit misleading. A quarter of the way through the second half, the Wildcats were up just three points when Nathan Dieudonne garnered a technical foul that resulted in four straight free throw attempts by Kentucky, who made three. UK extended their lead out to six, and from that point never looked back. With 8:33 left in the game, the Wildcats went on a devastating 23-8 run sparked by a save-assist from Devin Booker to Willie Cauley-Stein, followed by five straight points from Booker to push the lead out to eight. From there, the rout was on.
Boston Terriers box
Kentucky shot the ball very well. They missed a lot of easy ones, but made a fair number of long ones.
Kentucky didn’t exactly suck on defense, but they allowed 49 eFG%. That’s a season high by a long way. It was probably unreasonable to expect sub-40% eFG allowed all season, anyway.
Kentucky’s offense was excellent — 1.2 points per possession. It doesn’t get a lot better than that overall, but I would’ve like to have seen a bit more against BU. UK got a lot of clean looks close to the basket that they just missed.
Turnover percentage was acceptable, but once again it was a tale of two halves — 8 in the first half and only five in the second. 17.5% is okay against the solid zone that the Terriers put up, but a lot of them were soft passes and generally needless. UK needs to clean that up.
Once again, free throw rate is not where it should be. 39% is okay, not great, and UK allowed the Terriers to achieve a 34% rate. The Division I average is 38.3%, so UK is clearly underperforming in this area.
Offensive rebounding was definitely not where it should be, considering the competition. 39% is okay against a team like Kansas, but it’s not that strong against Boston U. Some of that was due to excellent blocking out by BU, but UK can and should do better than that.
Meanwhile, Kentucky allowed BU almost 35% offensive rebounds. That, and a heavy dose of turnovers, kept BU in the game until Kentucky went on that big run. Defensive rebounding was a problem in this game for Kentucky.
Love the nine steals by Kentucky. This team, when it puts pressure on teams, is capable of incredible, devastating spurts. I think Calipari is getting the idea.
Kentucky assisted on 70% of made baskets. Share the ball, baby, share the ball.
Devin Booker — Booker was the second-leading scorer and finally got his jumper going, making 4-6 from the field, 4 rebounds, 7 assists against only 2 turnovers. Game ball
Aaron Harrison — Again, tragically bad shooting for Aaron from three, but he did a good job of getting out on the break and making shorter shots. The number that really stands out to me in his line is 4 assists.
Andrew Harrison — Andrew had a very solid game with 8, points, 5 assists and only 1turnover. This was a really good game for him.
Willie Cauley-Stein — WCS did what he always does — shoot a high percentage and defend. He didn’t rebound particularly well, though, and he fouled out.
Karl-Anthony Towns — Towns had a nightmare game, going only 1-4 and having 4 turnovers. He did get 5 blocks, though.
Dominique Hawkins — Hawkins started for the sick Alex Poythress. I know what Calipari was trying to do there, balance out the "platoons," but in my view it failed, because it allowed BU to exploit switches. Hawkins shot the ball very well and had a couple of rebounds.
Tyler Ulis — Ulis let a little bit of his freshman experience show, turnong the ball over 3 times against only 2 assists. He only made one of his three 3-point shots, but he did have a couple of steals.
Dakari Johnson — Dakari Johnson played well. He allowed a few offensive rebounds, though, and Calipari got aggravated with him for that. He also made only 3 of 8 free throws.
Marcus Lee — Marcus Lee was just okay. He really didn’t do enoug, managing only 2 points, 2 rebounds and a turnover. He had a couple of good defensive plays, but I thought he lacked energy.
Trey Lyles — Trey Lyles was the lob-dunk guy all night, getting four of them and missing his only 3-point attempt. He had 4 rebounds, a block and a steal. Not great, but not bad.
Derek Willis — Derek Willis played brief minutes but didn’t impact the statistics at all, except for a missed three.
Tying it all up
Almost any game was going to be a letdown after Kentucky’s strong performance against Kansas, and this felt like one in spite of the strong statistics. The biggest faults I can find with UK’s performance was defensive rebounding and letting the Terriers hang around too long. That was mostly driven by an inability to make threes, too many turnovers, and some very good play by Boston in the first half.
Having said all that, it was a comfortable win, event though it didn’t feel comfortable until far too late in the game. That’s college basketball for you, and the tendency for highly-ranked teams to play down to the competition a little bit is something you see every season. Kentucky did not bring the defensive stopper mentality quite as much in this game, but a good bit of that was created by sharp ball movement and a tough zone defense which Kentucky could not take advantage of until Booker finally got hot and started making shots in the second half. Also, BU worked to get good perimeter looks rather than driving into Kentucky's big men a la Kansas.
Three point shooting is still an issue for this team despite the solid performance in this game, and a lot of it boils down to Aaron Harrison’s slow start. Booker has seemingly found his stroke, and that’s important for UK’s future. Also, I thought the first squad with Booker at the three was by far the most competent group last night, although several other combinations also produced well.
The "platoon" system broke down more this game than any we’ve seen, but honestly, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. Kentucky’s offense looked fluid at times and herky-jerky at times, but this is exactly what we’d expect to see in the early season. I’m just going to take this 24-point win and put it in my pocket and be happy.