When the Georgia Bulldogs came to town, I was hoping to be impressed by the intensity and focus of the Kentucky Wildcats, and for about 15 or 16 minutes, I really was. UK seemed to be firing on all cylinders, the defense was stout, and transition was excellent. And then for whatever reason, Kentucky quit playing, started settling for 3-point shots, and predictably, the game became competitive.
I’d like to congratulate Georgia on a good effort, and their effort was indeed laudable, but they didn’t play well. They threw the ball away a lot, missed free throws left and right, and generally played just well enough to keep it interesting but never really well enough to win. Some of that was due to Kentucky’s defense, but more of it was due to Georgia miscues. The Dawgs are capable of much better, and if they had brought their A-game, they very well could’ve beaten what Kentucky brought to the floor. Part of the lack of their best was doubtless due to Marcus Thornton being out due to a concussion.
You may think I’m being harsh on Kentucky, and in some ways I am. They ran their offense pretty well much of the time, getting uncontested 3-point shots, some of which they made early. But as the game wore on, those shots stopped falling, but Kentucky didn’t quit shooting them. They fell in love with the first open look they got instead of getting the ball inside or taking it to the hole, and they didn’t do their job well whatsoever on the defensive or offensive glass.
Let me show you what I mean by respecting your opponent. In my opinion, this is a perfect example of a failure to do that. In this play in the second half, Mann is going to get a routine pass on the left wing. He has no particular vulnerability, but for some reason, Aaron half-heartedly attempts a steal, leaving him badly out of position.
Aaron makes a weak attempt at a steal.
Aaron is now badly out of position, and Mann attacks the rim, drawing Willie.
Notice at this point, Kentucky is dead. Nobody is in position to help on Djurisic because Aaron is out of the play. It’s 5-on-4, and that always ends badly.
Mann draws the defenders to him, the Georgia wings sink out toward the 3-point line. If Willie and Aaron trap Mann hard at this point, maybe they defend the play. But they don’t, and he makes the easy pass to Djurisic for a layup.
This is how you lose ball games; by going for steals when you have zero leverage on your opponent and getting trapped behind the play. It was a savvy, mature attack by Mann and a freshman-like mistake by Aaron. It’s okay to gamble for steals sometimes, but you should wait until you have some leverage first, or you have someone in a position to help if you miss.
Kentucky’s defensive and offensive rebounding was horrible. To be fair, a review of several offensive rebounds revealed Georgia got away with a lot of pushing underneath that Kentucky did not. It happens sometimes. But UK’s problem was that they weren’t strong in their block-outs.
The Wildcats were inefficient because they took too many 3-point shots and missed them. 40% of Kentucky’s shot attempts were threes. That’s the kind of thing you see out of guard-dominant teams like VCU and Miami (FL), not big, strong teams like Kentucky. UK should be shooting about 28-30% 3’s or about 16-17 3-pointers in a 55 shot game like this.
Rebounding, as you see, was horrible, and what makes this particularly frustrating was that Marcus Thornton, Georgia’s leading rebounder, was out. This has now become less of a nuisance and more of a genuine concern, and we saw this back during the Big Blue Bahamas. Calipari has got to get rebounding fixed somehow, it is a glaring problem.
Georgia turned the ball over on 25% of their possessions. What kept them in the game was their ability to out-rebound and out-hustle Kentucky. UK only managed 5 steals, well below their season average.
Blocked shots have all but disappeared. I don’t have any idea why.
On the plus side, 64% assists is outstanding.
70% free throw shooting is okay. Not great, but okay. It galls me to see the guards missing so many and the bigs shooting their normal percentages.
Andrew Harrison had his best game of the year, and deserves the game ball. This is Andrew’s second outstanding game in a row. 7 assists and 1 turnover to go with 23 points on 50% shooting from the field and 100% from the line is about as good as it gets. Andrew put the team on his back at crunch time and his smart play and good execution kept the Dawgs at bay.
Karl-Anthony Towns had an outstanding game. He shot a good percentage from the floor, had 13 rebounds 3 assists, 1 turnover and 2 blocks. He gets an honorable mention for the game ball, and honestly, he would’ve won with these numbers in almost every other game this season.
Willie Cauley-Stein was good, but not great. Defensively, he was out of position too much, he did a very poor job blocking out, and just played at about 75% of his normal speed. That’s good enough, but we need more out of him. He stuffed the stats like he almost always does, but he’s capable of better. Only 5 rebounds is a concern.
Aaron Harrison was off on Tuesday. He missed every shot he took and didn’t defend very well.
I thought Dominique Hawkins played pretty well in limited minutes. He made a nice, confident three and had a steal.
Very happy with Tyler Ulis’ game. He played good, confident basketball, shot a good percentage and had 3 assists against 0 turnovers.
Devin Booker did not play particularly well, and not just because he shot it poorly from three. He made several poor decisions and was very weak on box-outs, allowing himself to be pushed around quite a bit.
Dakari Johnson continues to struggle to find his game. He made the only shot he took, but he didn’t rebound well at all.
Marcus Lee did some good things, but he is such an offensive liability that you can’t leave him on the floor that long. Silly fouls added to his woes, but to be fair, he just didn’t get away with some of his pushes and the Dawgs did. Also to be fair, Georgia was more subtle about it.
We are really missing Trey Lyles with his mature consistency that belies his years, and honestly, we miss Alex Poythress most of all. Since Poythress went down, this team has consistently lacked toughness, and they were almost never out-rebounded when he was available. The deeper we go into this season, the more painful his loss seems to become.
Tying it all up
I think there is an argument to be made that this team has hit some kind of wall. We saw this last season just about this time after Kentucky had reeled off four straight wins. As the games went on, they got less and less inspiring until Florida marched into Rupp Arena and beat the Wildcats on their own floor, which began a late-season swoon that nearly cost Kentucky a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
That’s not likely to happen again this year, which just highlights how much better this team is than last season’s. Having said that, going on the road on Saturday to Gainesville is always a heavy lift, although the Gators are far less threatening this year than last, and Kentucky much more capable of handling a trip to the O-Dome now than last season. Frankly, the Florida Gators have looked uncharacteristically horrible this season, although I don’t doubt they’ll bring their A-game Saturday. Also unfortunately, it seems likely Trey Lyles will not be available Saturday, if he makes the trip at all.
Kentucky must find a way to get out of this ridiculous rebounding funk they are in, and show more heart for longer stretches. We got great effort for 17 minutes or so, and then got treated to a half of AAU basketball.
If I sound grumpy, I am a little. This team should be improving at this point, and they seem stuck in a rut. That happens, and perhaps I’m expecting too much. But those sort of expectations are the life of the Big Blue Nation, although if you want to just savor the win, I don’t blame you and, in fact, encourage that. It’s okay to leave the complaining to old basketball curmudgeons like me.
Let’s just hope for better so we can put the Gators in their proper place on Saturday.