The Kentucky Wildcats suffered their first defeat of the 2015-16 season tonight as the UCLA Bruins pulled off the big upset by a final margin of 87-77.
It was an ugly performance by the Cats, and they frankly deserved to lose this game. They were simply outplayed by the Bruins, but such performances are to be expected when you start three freshmen and play five in the top eight of your rotation.
Still, it's way too early in the season to panic about one setback. We're not even 10 games into the regular season yet.
For now, here are our takeaways from this game.
Not Enough Fight
This really shouldn't be that big of a surprise based on how UK has looked against teams inferior to UCLA. Other than the Duke game, there really hasn't been a game this year that the Cats have brought the fight for more than a full half of play.
That was painfully evident against the Bruins as the Cats were just getting out-hustled, out-muscled and out-worked. The Bruins played like their season was on the line, and in a way, it probably was based on how bad of a start the they got off to this season.
Losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest made this look like a team everyone thought UK would roll over, including the Cats themselves apparently. UK didn't bring the fight in this game as much as they needed to, whereas UCLA brought it for 40 minutes, something these Cats are still learning how to do.
That said, this is one game in the midst of what the Cats hope is a 40-game season, not to mention we're not even 1/4th of the way into what's the first college season for many of these Cats.
Not Enough Meat in the Paint
Though UCLA had struggled to a 4-3 start, they still had one of the best frontcourts UK will face at any point in the regular season. Thomas Welsh and Tony Parker can be a force in the paint, and they imposed their will far too often against the Cats' bigs.
Skal Labissiere got pushed around in the paint while Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress got out-hustled for rebounds on several occasions. All of UK's bigs committed bad over-the-back fouls, and Skal sat much of the first half with two fouls and two points.
Alex ended up fouling out with 10 minutes left in the game. It didn't help that Lee left the game early with a head injury either. But what really hurt UK was Skal not making an impact on either end of the court, leading Tyler Ulis to have a heated exchange with Skal during the second half:
Tyler Ulis has had about enough of this. pic.twitter.com/7JDH5VurKE— T.J. Beisner (@Beisner_cn2) December 4, 2015
Perimeter Offense Shines, Then Fizzles
During the broadcast, Jay Bilas made note of how UCLA coach Steve Alford stressed to his players to pack the paint and make Kentucky a jump-shooting team. Bilas also noted the Cats had scored 45% of their points on dunks or layups coming into this game, and it was clear early on the Cats would have to make threes to beat the Bruins.
It looked like the Cats would get it done early on as they hit three of their first five three-point attempts and remained in striking distance of UCLA. Unfortunately, the Cats went cold from there, hitting just one of their next 12 attempts.
Over that span, UK went from trailing 19-17 in the first half to down 77-63 with two minutes left in the game. The Cats were settling for far too many jumpers in this game, even if UCLA was packing the paint.
Don't Blame the Refs
Yes, there were a lot of questionable calls go against Kentucky in this one, but that's going to happen in the midst of a long season. Refs are going to have off nights too, and UK has to be able to overcome it and still beat teams like UCLA. The Cats just didn't have it tonight, and the refs just made it worse, but weren't the reason it was bad to begin with.
It's One Loss.