The deeper we get into the season, the more important "How are the Kentucky Wildcats playing" becomes to the eventual NCAA Tournament success of the team. We have seen Kentucky be a dominant defensive team throughout the year, but their offense has been less than inspiring for a team that purports to be the top team in the country. Yesterday against the Alabama Crimson Tide, we may have seen the beginnings of the offense turning around.
I have come to understand that turning points are usually only identifiable in retrospect. It’s easy to get caught up in a good game or a particularly inspired performance as some kind of significant milepost for a season. So while I am hopeful the Wildcats may have turned an offensive corner around this time, we can’t be sure of that for a while.
Alabama played hard yesterday against Kentucky, and played pretty well considering they were missing a major piece of their team on the road. The Tide were more efficient offensively than any team who has faced Kentucky in Rupp Arena all year save one — the Ole Miss overtime game. That’s pretty impressive when you’re missing your second-leading scorer. Well contested, Tide, and we wish you success down the road.
With the Virginia Cavaliers losing to the Duke Blue Devils yesterday in Charlottesville 69-63, the Wildcats become the lone undefeated team in the country. I truly don’t think it matters that much, but it will be the storyline that everyone will be touting for the foreseeable future, or until Kentucky loses.
Let’s have a look at the numbers.
Kentucky was extremely efficient offensively. In fact, this is the second-most efficient game of the season for Kentucky, surpassed only by the January 13th game with Missouri in Rupp Arena. And they did that against the third best defense in the SEC. That’s very not bad.
Defensively, Kentucky was not as good as in recent games. The Wildcats allowed Alabama 1.04 points per possession, significantly better than they allowed in Tuscaloosa. I think Alabama ran their stuff a lot better yesterday, and they got to the line a lot, which made them quite efficient. They also shot it very well from two-point range.
For the third game in the last four, the Wildcats were beaten on the offensive glass. This is becoming an annoying trend, and UK needs to tighten that up.
Kentucky continues to get to the line well, but the Tide got there even better. Combined with their offensive rebounding, that made them much more efficient than normal.
Free throw shooting was barely adequate. The usual suspects, the bigs, struggled from the line.
Kentucky forced almost 25% turnovers (to be honest, a fair number of them were unforced). That’s a very good number for Kentucky.
What happened to all the blocked shots? It’s weird to see so few blocks and so many offensive rebounds.
Five steals is a good, not great, number.
Willie Cauley-Stein gets the game ball. He was back to his normal self offensively, and he did some nice things defensively that didn’t show up in the stats. He was very efficient offensively, making all 4 of his shot attempts and 4-6 of his free throws.
Marcus Lee gets and honorable mention. He was efficient on offense and led the team in rebounding. All 4 of his shots were dunks or put-backs, and even though they don’t show up as assists in the stat sheet, he made several very nice passes. Lee is making progress. Consider this game in per 34 minute format: 16 points, 10 rebounds.
Devin Booker had another fine shooting game, and was 4-6 from the field including 3-4 from the arc.
Andrew Harrison was fine, he put pressure on the defense and did what he usually does. His numbers are solid, but not remarkable. He continues to defend extremely well, and this was one of his best defensive efforts. He was on the floor and hustling after every ball. He got 4 rebounds, which is nice to see.
Aaron Harrison played fine. He shot an unremarkable percentage, but got a couple of steals to go along with 4 rebounds.
Tyler Ulis had a very good game. His shooting was just okay, but he dished out four nice assists with only 1 turnover. Fine game from the freshman.
Dakari Johnson needs to figure out how to get the ball in the basket. He shot just 1 for 3 and missed two layups. He only made 50% of his free throws, and managed only 1 rebound. He had a couple of assists, a steal and a block, which are great, but his problem all season has been getting the ball into the basket from point-blank range.
Karl-Anthony Towns had a great first half, and a lousy second half where he fouled out. He got jobbed on at least one and arguable two of those calls, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Consistency is always an issue with freshman, but in the first half, he showed just how good he can be.
Tying it all up
This was a great offensive game for Kentucky, and honestly, it felt to me like a very easy victory. The Wildcats were making shots, defending well if not spectacularly so, and didn’t make a bunch of dumb mistakes. The defense could’ve been better, but I think we have to credit Alabama for playing well offensively as much as wonder about Kentucky’s defensive effort.
I want to be excited about 21-0, and I am. I think we should smell the roses a bit with this team rather than push them down a joyless path of expectations of perfections. I get that we all want that, because as fans of college basketball, we are looking for Kentucky to be the best they can be at all times. We are seeing progress on this team, and although I am slightly concerned about Kentucky’s rebounding, you can’t expect everything to be great every game. There are always going to be areas that fall short of expectations.
One of the things it can be easy to do as a basketball fan is let the perfect become the enemy of the good. When you win a game by double-digits, at home or away, it is an unalloyed good. These SEC opponents are much better than they have been, even with modest records and a bit of self-immolation. We have to respect that as fans, and the team has to respect them or suffer a defeat at their hands. I’ve been impressed with our preparation for most of the season, and this game was no exception. It never felt like Kentucky was in any jeopardy of losing this game, and that’s exactly the kind of games we should expect in the middle of the conference season from the #1 team in America against more ordinary opponents.
So the Big Blue Beast Train rolls on, and welcomes the Georgia Bulldogs on Tuesday into Rupp Arena.