The Kentucky Wildcats reasserted their dominance last night in a 86-37 demolition of the Missouri Tigers in Rupp Arena. What this game tells us, in the main, is that the pre-2015 Wildcats were no mirage, nor a series of good defensive games that are unlikely to be repeated. When this Kentucky team focuses and plays with intensity, they can dominate teams in a very special way.
Missouri fans must be understandably embarrassed by the outcome, and I feel for them. Kentucky, despite it’s legendary program status has suffered some embarrassing beatdowns as well, including a nasty one at the hands of conference rival Tennessee back in 2013, and three losses to Florida only last season, even though only one of the three really fell under the "beat-down" category. Missouri is not as bad as they looked last night, they just played a poor game, got intimidated, and as will sometimes happen to young teams in road situations, became the basketball equivalent of road-kill. Missouri has talent, but what they lack is experience, and right now due mostly to injury, quality depth.
One positive Tigers fans can take away from this game is the solid play of Keanau Post, who did some good work inside despite heavy pressure from Kentucky, scoring 10 points and collecting 6 rebounds in only 21 minutes. If we convert that to 34 minutes like Kentucky does for its players, that works out to 16 points and 10 rebounds — very not bad. We wish the Tigers all the best going forward.
As for Kentucky, the Wildcats were exactly what UK fans needed them to be — dominant on both ends of the floor to the point of excellence. Let’s look to the top-view efficiencies for guidance; the Wildcats held Mizzou to 0.6 points per possession, while putting up a whopping 1.39 points/possession themselves — their best offensive performance of the year. Criticisms can be found in a relatively ordinary 50% shooting on 2-point goals — offensive rebounding made the efficiency look much better — and a not impressive 71% defensive rebounding rate. Kentucky needs to be consistently at 75% or better in this stat. But more on that below.
Courtesy of KenPom.com
Courtesy of KenPom.com
Kentucky can do better than 50% on 2-point shots in a game like this where the opponent is a size mismatch. The Wildcats still take too many wild or off-balance shots.
Very impressive 3-point shooting. Most pundits thought this was a weakness early in the season, but no more. UK’s season average is still fairly anemic, but they haven’t shot under 30% since the Columbia game.
13% turnovers? I’m happy. Can’t you tell? You should be, too.
I mentioned defensive rebounding above, and it needs reiterating. Kentucky’s deep run in the tournament last season was helped in no small part by good defensive rebounding. In only two games, Louisville and Michigan, was Kentucky under 75% on the defensive glass.
52% offensive rebounding is getting it done. If you are wondering why such a good offensive rebounding team is not better when it comes to defensive rebounding, join the crowd, which includes both myself and Coach Cal among many others.
You may think it notable that Missouri was held to only one 3-point make, but even more notable is that Kentucky held Missouri 5 points under their season average for 3-point attempts. You can never make the 3-pointer you don’t try.
10% steals is good. I’d like to see more, but from a Calipari team, that’s a big number.
56% assists. We all love ball sharing, don’t we?
Shot selection was much better. Kentucky’s 3-point attempt percentage was just under the season average of 31%. You knew that Calipari was going to get that corrected, though.
Karl-Anthony Towns deserves the game ball, but I’m making it a split with him and Dominique Hawkins. KAT had probably his best game as a Wildcat, including 5 (!) blocks and a double-double (points/rebounds). Hawkins’ stats aren’t as gaudy, but he had 6 points in his first start this season, tied the team high for assists with 3, had only 1 turnover, a block and 2 steals, and I thought his defense was outstanding. Super game out of both young men.
Willie Cauley-Stein gets an honorable mention. He shot the ball great, made 5 of 6 free throws, and did all the other stuff he always does. Plus, he made a really nice face-up jumper, and if that becomes a regularly successful part of his game, look out!
Devin Booker played just fine. He made all his shots, he just didn't shoot that many. I thought he played solid defense, especially in transition
Aaron Harrison shot lights out from 3, making 5-7 and leading the team with 16 points. He didn’t turn the ball over once. Beats the heck out of 4-40 over the two previous games.
Andrew Harrison continues to struggle with his shot a little, but he made all but one of his free throws and had 3 assists, 1 turnover and 3 rebounds.
Dakari Johnson played well, but I want to see his shooting improve. 3-7 from where he shoots it isn’t great, and I know he’s capable of better. He rebounded typically well, though.
Beside the monster put-back dunk, Trey Lyles had a quiet game. He did corral 5 rebounds and get a steal.
Tyler Ulis played well. He didn’t shoot particularly well, but he had 3 assists, only 1 turnover and a steal.
I thought Marcus Lee played well. He had 6 rebounds in only 15 minutes. Calipari’s beef with him is one-handed rebounding, but he needs to apply that same criteria to everyone. Either Andrew or Aaron also had a one-handed rebound.
Derek Willis made a nice three, and now he knows what he has to do to earn playing time — beat out Dominique Hawkins. Nothing like a straightforward goal to make a guy play better!
Tying it all up
Obviously, this was a great game. It was great statistically and it looked every bit as good in real life as it does on the stat sheet, which is not all that common. Kentucky played with energy, intensity and focus for most of the game. Yes, there is always room for criticism, but as Calipari reminded us in his post-game comments, he really doesn’t want the team to play March basketball in January. Continue to get better, continue to win, and everything else will take care of itself. Even a loss or two doesn’t matter, the only thing that should matter to this team is getting to the last game of the season.
It does help that the Big Blue Nation doesn’t have to listen to any more concern-trolling from the sports media, at least until they have another hiccup. Pundits have Duke to worry about now, and don’t let the "but Virginia passed you up in KenPom’s standings" cause you any consternation — that has nothing to do with Kentucky and everything to do with Miami upsetting Duke, among other things that are beyond the control of the Wildcats. Kentucky fans need to worry only about the things that the team can control, not what other teams do.
Finally, I can’t help but point out how much better those overtime victories look in proper context. Ole Miss is proving itself to be a much better team than most figured, crushing a very good Gamecocks team by 16 in Oxford. Texas A&M also won, but in far less impressive fashion against a much weaker Mississippi State, but that game in College Station was just one where Kentucky went brain-dead. In the end, it did the ‘Cats much more good than harm and cost them nothing.
On to Tuscaloosa, where the challenging Crimson Tide await!