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Kentucky vs Ohio State: Takeaways from Wildcats' loss to Buckeyes

Well, this is a hard one to explain for Kentucky other than they're simply not as good as everyone expected them to be.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

After a long and stressful week of Finals, the Kentucky Wildcats were back on the court Saturday to face the Ohio State Buckeyes in Brooklyn as part of the CBS Sports Champions Classic.

Most penciled this as an easy UK win with OSU having struggled mightily coming into this game, but you wouldn't have known that watching the Buckeyes storm out to a 14-point lead as they were scorching hot to open the game. They hit 11 of their first 18 shots and five of their first eight three-pointers to take command in stunning fashion as they took a 37-25 lead into halftime.

The Cats would continue to struggle as the Buckeyes would be a 16-point lead twice in the second half, including one with 11:26 left as OSU led 55-39. But a furious rally spurred by Jamal Murray almost helped the Cats pull off the comeback as UK clawed to within three points on several occasions, but we unable to overcome all of their issues en route to a 74-67 loss.

Here's are takeaways from the shocking defeat:

Minor Injuries Mounting Up

The Cats have been plagued with maybe as many minor injuries this season as any John Calipari-coached team in recent memory. Between Tyler Ulis' hyperextended elbow, Alex Poythress' hyperextended knee, Isaiah Briscoe's bruised knee, Isaac Humphries' foot, Dominique Hawkins' hand, Derek Willis' finger, and Marcus Lee's head, the Cats have seemingly had at least one guy dinged up each game, and that continued against Ohio State.

Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murray both jammed their fingers before this game that forced their hands to be bandaged up vs. the Buckeyes. You'd like to think these kinds of minor injuries wouldn't affect a team too much, but then again, the way UK is playing right now, maybe they are.

Zero Ball

The Cats tried playing hero ball during the first half, and it led to an array of poor and rushed shots that led to UK shooting just 11 of 36 in the first half. That helped put them in a 12-point hole at halftime, and it continued into the second half as one-on-one basketball was only offense UK seemed interested in running.

Part of that has to do with players not moving enough and working to get better positioning to score, which then leads Tyler Ulis (4-of-12) and Isaiah Briscoe (1-of-9) trying to do too much when they're not shooting the ball well.

Playing hero ball and not running offense is something these young Cats have struggled with this season, but this game was the climax of those struggles, and it helped lead to their most shocking defeat.

Murray Flurry

As Kentucky looked out of this game several times in the second half, Jamal Murray tried his best to keep the Cats afloat with an amazing second-half barrage.

After scoring just six points going into halftime, Murray erupted in the second half as he alone kept pace with the Buckeyes scoring. He scored 27 after the break and finished with a career-high 33 points, and it was his offense that helped get UK back into the game.

It was a special performance that sadly was all for naught as the Cats fell, but hopefully this helps UK start building the offense more around Murray. There's no question he's the Cats' best offensive player and someone that it looks like is going to have to carry more of the load going forward.

Skal Is Only Part Of The Problem

The biggest disappointment for the Cats through the first quarter of the season undoubtedly was the play of Skal. The freshman phenom was anything but over his first 10 games, and it was mainly due to his lack of physicality and tentativeness on offense.

He looked much better in both areas vs. the Buckeyes as he was throwing his body around more in the paint and forcing contact rather than shying from it. Skal was also more assertive on the offensive end and took shots when they presented themselves. He had three shot attempts in the first eight minutes after attempting three or fewer shots in three of his previous four games.

But Skal would end up doing very little in this game thanks to the hero ball many Cats tried playing with for too much of this game. He finished 1-of-7 shooting with two blocks and five rebounds. I only note Skal's performance in this game because he was playing better early on, but seemed to disappear as Ulis, Murray, Briscoe and others tried shouldering the offensive load.

This team's struggles are no longer primarily only on Skal. This team as a whole is underperforming, and Skal is just part of the problem.

Rebuilding Year?

It's funny how life works sometimes. Ohio State was viewed as the team in rebuild mode coming into this game, and while they still are, so too is Kentucky. The theme of most Calipari teams has been reloading, not rebuilding, but you can't reload if you're firing as many blanks as the Cats are this season.

But it's hard to call this a rebuild when as many as four guys will leave. Maybe "transition year" is a better name for what this is shaping up to be. Either way, the expectations you had for this team coming into the season need to be tossed out with the family fruitcake.

That doesn't meant this year's team cannot do something special, but there's a LOT of work left to be done for this to become a team capable of winning in March.