So today we’re going to review the twenty-sixth straight victory by the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2014-15 season without a single defeat. That mark sets a new high for a season start, eclipsing the former mark set by the 1953-54 team led by UK legends Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos. That it came at the expense of the Tennessee Volunteers, long our most serious rival in the SEC, makes it all the more sweet.
One thing that cannot be denied about Tennessee — they are disruptive and they play hard. Tennessee’s effort was very impressive, perhaps more impressive than anyone we’ve played lately. Unfortunately for them, Kentucky’s defense gradually wore them down, took their legs, and they basically just didn’t have anything left at the end. They kept the game competitive for quite a long time, though, and never surrendered. Even down double-digits late in the game, they had a possession with at least four offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t find a way to score despite the extra tries.
Kentucky did not play its best game. I thought they were soft, avoided contact, and didn’t seem to want to be there. They weren’t awful by any means, and it isn’t as if they didn’t put forth any effort, it just wasn’t a great effort and it wasn’t all that focused. I blame some of that on the grind of conference play, and some of it on youth. But it’s hard to get too upset, because even their B game is really, really good.
|Devin Booker MVP||30||118||34||18||3-7||2-9||6-6||4||3||1||2||0||1||0|
Courtesy of KenPom.com
Courtesy of KenPom.com
Kentucky’s offensive rebounding was outstanding, their defensive rebounding loathsome. A lot of this was due to some weirdness, like both teams getting high numbers of offensive rebounds in a single possession. At least two were due to missed block attempts that provided an open rebounding lane for Tennessee, and one was due to a block out of bounds by WCS. Overall, I can live with it, but I wish we would do better in this area.
3-point shooting was poor, and Kentucky’s looks from three were really, really good. That’s a little bit worrisome, because the Wildcats need to be more consistent hitting that shot.
Kentucky took too many threes. 41% of their shots were from outside the arc. That percentage should be at least 10 points lower.
Solid, productive game at the line. I was very pleased with the free throw shooting, which seems to be on a very nice, upward trajectory, and that really matters when you get fouled as much as UK does.
Which brings me to my next point — free throw rate. UK is doing a great job lately getting to the line and making them count.
Turnovers were too high for me, but honestly, Tennessee deserves a ton of credit for that. They have a tough pressure defense that is going to cause some turnovers. Most teams turn it over a lot more against them.
Kentucky got six steals and forced 15 turnovers, over 26 percent. 7 percent is a nice margin in the turnover battle, and I’ll take it with a minimum of displeasure.
The officiating was poor. There has been a lot of commentary about that, so I’ll mention it, but that’s all. Sometimes that happens. It wasn’t this bad, at least.
57 possessions is a slow game. A lot of that was both teams doing work defensively. You can’t fault anybody for using the full shot clock if that’s what it takes to locate a good look.
Offensive efficiency was very good at 1.16 points per possession. Defensive efficiency at 0.84 points/possession is also darn good.
Devin Booker gets the game ball. He was grossly inefficient (31%) from the floor, but perfect from the line in six tries. He had 7 big rebounds and was very aggressive on the offensive glass. He also had an assist, a steal, and only 2 turnovers. I’m reluctant to give volume shooters the game ball, but Devin did some other things he doesn’t normally do.
Tyler Ulis was efficient, and gets an honorable mention. He shot 50% from everywhere, and had 6 assists. He was a major liability on defense against Tennessee’s big guards, but he made up for it by taking great care of the ball, getting it into scoring position, and getting into the paint more than usual. I liked what he did out there.
Andrew Harrison had a good game. He was only 4 of 10 shooting, but he made all his free throws, had 2 assists to only one turnover, a couple of steals including a theft for a dunk, and did a good job of attacking Tennessee in the second half and hurting them. Andrew is really upping his game lately.
Aaron Harrison, on the other hand, is getting more and more invisible. He was 1-7 shooting the ball, had a turnover, a block and a steal. He was fine defensively but we need more than this out of him.
Trey Lyles had a super game, and I considered him briefly for the game ball. He shot a high percentage and got five rebounds, darn good for only 18 minutes.
Willie Cauley-Stein had a solid game, 3-4 shooting the ball, 3-4 from the line, 7 rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal. But he had 4 turnovers, which was a rather large negative.
Dakari Johnson could have been a lot better than he was, but this just wasn’t a good team for him. Tennessee’s big men are small and quick, and that always puts Dakari in trouble on the screen and roll.
Marcus Lee played very well in limited minutes. He only got 2 rebounds, though, which isn’t that great. Marcus really has to develop a faceup game, like Willie has. If he can do that, he’ll be very good.
Tying it all up
This wasn’t Kentucky’s greatest game, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked on TV. Tennessee did a good job defensively with an odd zone that UK has had little practice against. I liked Kentucky’s patience, but their shot selection wasn’t very good. Still, they did what they needed to do, and as they have done fairly often before, they wore Tennessee down. Andrew’s pressure on the rim in the latter half of the second period really helped break the game open, and once the Wildcats got a substantial lead, they did not relinquish it.
Playing on the road under adverse conditions is getting easier for this team, even if it’s still pretty uncomfortable. They continue to display a very mature attitude at crunch time, and I am starting to feel very comfortable with their ability to finish games well — they held Tennessee to two field goals in the last nine minutes of the game. That’s how you defend, right there.
So if you thought the game looked ugly, perhaps it was, but on the score sheet it was way less ugly than on the television. Kentucky surrendered a lot of points in the first half, but a game is two halves long, and they got all of it and a little more back in the second in terms of defensive efficiency. That’s another reason why beating Kentucky is so hard — if you have a lapse, you are liable to wind up on the short end of an 18-point deficit. Not the Wildcats most impressive victory of the season, but then again, every road win in the SEC is beautiful, especially against the Vols.