Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this is going to be a really fun postmortem. Contra our excited hyperbole, however, this was far from the best Kentucky can play, which should scare the bejezus out of anyone on our schedule. Of course, the undefeateds like the Duke Blue Devils, Arizona Wildcats, and Louisville Cardinals are going to assure themselves that they can handle Kentucky, and I don’t blame them. My humble though biased opinion is that they are all profoundly wrong, just like Kansas, North Carolina and … well, everyone else really. But as I said, because Kentucky fan, so we’ll let that lie.
Normally, this is where I congratulate our foe for a good effort, but I am convinced that UCLA did not put forth their best effort today, and it would not be right for me to suggest they did. UCLA was tentative and did a very poor job offensively in the first half, primarily due to extremely poor guard play. They were much better in the second half, but by then, the game was too far gone to matter. So I’ll just wish UCLA the best going forward and look forward to meeting them in legendary Pauley Pavilion next season.
I am not sure that any team in America would’ve fared better than UCLA did today, to be honest. The first half was the most focused and intense I have seen this basketball team, and when you combine that with their prodigious length and notable talent, you get embarrassing halves of basketball for our opponents. That’s what happened today, made uglier by UCLA’s poor play.
What set this game apart was splendid three-point shooting, something I have long expected to see, and it is the one missing piece for Kentucky. The reason is that the tight zone and pack-line defenses utilized by our opponents is meant to nullify Kentucky’s size inside and prevent dunks, lobs and layups at the expense of three-point shooting, which up until now has been markedly inferior to the quality of the rest of the team’s play.
We’ll get more into all this later. Right now, let’s get to the measurables:
Once again, Kentucky’s defense was absurd, holding a team to under 0.8 points per possession. In this case, it was 0.62.
Kentucky forced the normally competent UCLA ballhandlers into 22% turnovers.
UCLA hurt Kentucky on the offensive glass, and John Calipari has been harping on this a lot lately, and rightfully so. The Wildcats allowed 36% UCLA offensive rebounds. Not near good enough. For example, last year’s team had DR performances at 70% or better in four of six NCAA Tournament games. Kentucky hasn’t rebounded that well since the Eastern Kentucky game.
1.22 points per possession. That’s very good. Not awesome, but very, very good.
46% on 3-point shots, 12-26. That kind of performance makes pack-line and zone defenses irrelevant and unworkable.
Offensive rebounding was okay. It needs to be 40% or better for me to be happy.
UK blocked 24% of UCLA’s shots. That’s got to be hard to take if your a Bruin fan.
19% steals. Mark my word, this stat is possibly the most impressive out of all stats this season, unless …
it’s 78% assists. 78% of Kentucky’s made field goals were assisted. Share the ball? Oh, hell yeah!
17.6% turnovers is okay, but this team can do better.
58% free throw shooting is another area that requires improvement.
This was a tough game ball, but I’m going to give this one to two freshmen, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. Ulis was brilliant with 6 assists and only 1 turnover to go with a very efficient 7 points. Booker shot the lights out from everywhere, shooting 70% combined from both 3 and 2, and he actually shot 83% from three. Yes, his defense is still developing, but his offense was a thing of beauty.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison both had great games, and deserve an honorable mention. WCS once again stuffed the stat sheet, and besides his 15 points, Aaron had three steals and 3 assists.
Andrew also had a very good game, and he easily could’ve won the game ball but for his four turnovers. Turnovers have been a bit of an issue with Andrew, and I want to see that improve. Eight assists (a number that could’ve easily reached double digits) is nonetheless very impressive, as was his 2-4 shooting from three.
Dakari Johnson had a great game, really good enough for honors, but I’d like to see him make more than 2-5 from where he shoots it. Still, he had
11 rebounds5 rebounds and 6 (!) assists, and and 4 (!) blocks. Pretty impressive for a big man.
Karl-Anthony Towns played fine. He didn’t score much but he had 10 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Everyone else played pretty well. Trey Lyles put up some solid numbers, Marcus Lee had 6 rebounds in only 17 minutes (needs to tighten up free throws, though), Derek Willis did some nice things including 3 blocks, Dominque Hawkins played well even though he really didn’t impact the stat sheet.
Tying it all up
This was by far the best offensive game Kentucky has played, and the best half of offensive and defensive basketball together considering only the first half. The stats in this case belie just how well Kentucky played, as they were able to completely end the game in the first half with a 41-7 halftime lead. Usually, such a lead is not considered insurmountable, but considering the quality of Kentucky’s defense, it might as well have been 100-25.
This is the second game in a row that 3-point shooting has been sharp and devastating, and if this continues, teams are going to suffer some embarrassing beat-downs that might even make this one look pedestrian. The defense and rebounding will only improve, and imagining this team putting two halves together like the first half of this game could yield historic results. Fortunately, the Wildcats have learned how to put on the brakes without making it obvious that’s what’s happening. They might be getting a lot more practice doing that in the SEC.
So we have the Louisville Cardinals next, and word is that Montrezl Harrell will be eligible for the game despite his ejection today for what looked vaguely like a punch. Good. I want no part of beating a wounded Louisville team, I want every inch of them next Saturday. If they are good enough to beat us, so be it.
But I don’t think they will be.