The Kentucky Wildcats took care of Wright State tonight in a 15 point win, 78-63. While the game was never really in question, the Wildcats had a tough time putting their opponent away. The crowd kept waiting for a signature run to occur, but it never materialized.
The 'Cats improved to 4-0 but the intensity and aggressiveness we saw against Duke was never really there.
Here's what we learned:
There Was a Post-Duke Hangover
As I mentioned, the game wasn't in danger of being lost but there was a lethargic feel to the way the team played. John Calipari spent most of the night up and out of his seat, yelling about effort and getting in guys' ears about hustle and making dumb mistakes.
I'll give Wright State plenty of credit, that was a methodical team on offense that worked to get the ball to the open man. And that open man was pretty good at knocking down shots. They shot 42.9% from the three point line and 88.2% from the foul line. Their ability to knock down shots kept this game from being a blow-out.
There wasn't the suffocating perimeter defense that we have seen from Kentucky. I think the lack of energy for their opponent had a lot to do with that.
How did Tyler Ulis follow up a career night against the Duke Blue Devils? By having another career night. Tyler again recorded a career high in points with 21. Early in the game, Ulis produced the offense when it was needed and scored six straight at one point. Tyler had five assists, when 5-9 from the field, and 10-12 from the foul line. He would have had a few more assists if it wasn't for a couple of botched baskets around the rim from Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress.
Even when those around him weren't at their best, Ulis still shined and carried the team when it was necessary.There was a considerable drop off on offense when Ulis was out of the game. He's the most important player on the team.
Kentucky once again was dominated by guard play. Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, and Jamal Murray combined for 49 of Kentucky's s 78 points. While Murray was quiet from the field going only 1-4 and 1-3 from the three point line, he hit 10-10 from the free throw line. He also six rebounds. I'm not worried at all about Murray scoring, if he isn't getting it done shooting from the field, he will kill it at the charity stripe.
Briscoe was again in attack mode, one of the few players that was, and got to the rim pretty much whenever he wanted. He had 13 points and was 7-11 shooting. But free throws were again a killer as he went only 1-5. He has to get better in this department.
Where Were the Bigs?
Marcus Lee had no points and seven rebounds. Alex Poythress had 10 points and 10 rebounds, four of those points came from the foul line and Alex again had trouble finishing around the rim. Skal Labissiere had a decent game shooting 50% from the field and scoring 13 points, but he went 1-5 in the free throw department, which is unusual for him, and he had only three rebounds. Skal dropped multiple passes in the paint and was again bullied at times by his opponent.
Out of the three, I think Alex had the best game but the team needs more out of him. After being an energy guy against Duke, Lee completely disappeared against a team that he should have dominated. The bigs need to get more consistent and involved in the game to help out the terrific guards.
Cal is on Skal
As to my above point, John Calipari spends more time yelling at Skal than he does almost anyone on the team. He is constantly in his face and trying to fire him up. He knows that the one thing holding the star back is his lack of aggressiveness. Calipari is desperately trying to press the right buttons with him and sometimes it does work.
Some of the fault lies with the guards as they don't get him involved enough. But in their defense, if Skal cannot hold on to the ball or get good post position, they aren't going to throw it down there to him.
Remember, Cal pushed Karl-Anthony Towns harder than anyone last season and he turned out OK.
Tying it All Up
We could see that Cal was not happy with his team's performance and there was a lot to learn from this game. There is no doubting that we will be hearing more about toughness and the will to win after tonight. This is a good basketball team that threw out a bit of a clunker tonight, but it's still early and guys are still learning.
One of the reasons the 'Cats couldn't get clicking on all cylinders was the second half whistles. The refs really enforced the freedom of movement rule, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. But the game ground to a halt in the second half and became a free throw shooting contest.
There will be more games like this and there will be losses along the way, but I do think this is going to be a team that plays their best when the stage is big and the lights are bright.