After having reviewed the defensive possessions for the Kentucky Wildcats, I must confess that second half was a very poor defensive effort by Kentucky, and not just when it came to 3-point defense. It was a general failure of defense, primarily but not exclusively in transition. There were many breakdowns of a head-scratching nature. Yes, Auburn made some good shots, but what really got me was the lack of effort on some of the plays. Here’s one in particular, and the culprit is Andrew Harrison.
What you see here is Andrew making a swipe at K.C. Ross-Miller as he is heading down the court in transition, it’s what we would call "matador defense," with very little intent to stop the player and more to take the play off:
In this next shot, Ross-Miller has blown by Andrew and making a beeline for the right wing. Andrew is trotting back:
Next, we see just how far out of position Andrew is when Miller goes up for the wide-open look:
This wasn’t by any means the only breakdown, only the most egregious. Apparently, when Kentucky ran off to that big lead and discovered that Auburn could not defend them, they simply dogged it a little on defense and went into AAU mode. The review of the second half indicated that the Wildcats simply did not put forth the normal effort defensively, and that showed up as a much better half of basketball for Auburn.
As to the observation that 3-point defense was bad in the second half, it wasn’t just that. Auburn got to the rim at will, and got every shot they wanted from any distance, especially in transition. It was not just the obvious failure of the guards in transition, but it was a comprehensive let-down from the first half, at least.
It’s easy to be hyper-critical while looking at this, and I’m going to refrain for two reasons, one of which is that you don’t have to play perfect basketball every half, and the first half was as close to a perfect half of basketball as we’ve seen out of Kentucky all season.
The second is that the game was well in hand, and Kentucky’s players had rightly determined that Auburn could not stop them from scoring at will. As long as they played good offense, there was simply not enough possessions for Auburn to mount a serious challenge. They did that, and the game became a track meet that Kentucky easily won.
I want to make an observation here, and it is a comparison of the Tennessee and Auburn games. Kentucky played very good basketball in the Tennessee game, but it looked a lot closer — and to many, uglier — due to the low number of possessions and outstanding, physical defense played by both teams. The Auburn game, by contrast, looked much more beautiful because of a high number of possessions in a run-and-gun contest that has not been the hallmark of this Kentucky team.
I also want to point out that Calipari seemed fine with the way the game was played. I’m confident Calipari will use sequences like the above as teaching tools, but he also understands that the game should be fun, and grinding out every possession is anything but even though winning every game is the overarching objective.
This was a good game for Kentucky to let their hair down a bit, and I think excessive nit-picking about poor defense for one half in a game where they clobbered their opponent is just counterproductive and pedantic. I just wanted to settle for good and all the question of why Auburn was so successful in the second half, and the answer is exactly what you would expect. The overall game was excellent, and it was nice to see an offensive outburst for a change.