The Kentucky Wildcats handle the Cincinnati Bearcats in a more or less comfortable fashion to extend their season-opening winning streak to 36-0, a new record. It’s doubly sweet that they accomplished this milestone on the home court of the loathsome Louisville Cardinals. Many a Louisville fan is gnashing their teeth right about now. That’s just a little special sauce to this sweet, tasty moment.
Kentucky really played much better basketball in this game, even though they shot the ball poorly from almost everywhere except the free throw line. The Wildcats took care of the basketball and defended with reckless abandon. Every possession Cincinnati had, it was hard to see how they would get a shot to go in. They got a few, but every one of them was challenged.
I thought the Bearcats did everything the right way for them to have a chance. They used a matchup zone, which has often given Kentucky problems. They worked to control the tempo and number of possessions. They rebounded very well offensively. They even tried, somewhat successfully, to distract Kentucky with smack talk and physical play, producing a technical foul and throwing Kentucky off balance. They did just about everything they could do, but what they could not do is score on the Wildcats. Kudos to the Bearcats for the great game.
UK held Cincinnati to 31.7-percent shooting and 0.81 points per possession. Stats: pic.twitter.com/RZYsroBhUz— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) March 21, 2015
- Kentucky held UC to 17% shooting in the second half;
- 3-point shooting was not good;
- UC killed Kentucky on the offensive glass;
- Kentucky took terrific care of the ball;
- That technical foul was a poor call;
- Nine blocks. That’s awesome.
I was very happy with how Kentucky played this game, overall. I knew the Bearcats were going to do all the things they did, because it was the only strategy that makes any sense. It might’ve worked, too, if Cincinnati was slightly more talented. But Kentucky was not to be denied by a poor shooting game. They ran good offense, got good looks, and they were bound to get some of them to go. They also did what they have done very well from the middle of the SEC season on — made free throws. Kentucky once again shot 71% from the stripe, a number that comes up within a percentage point or three every single game.
Cincinnati gave us a good, hard fight, and it was the kind of game that can focus a team’s attention. Other than the temporary hiccup where Octavius Ellis got into the heads of Kentucky and created the technical, Kentucky’s focus was laser-sharp, even if their shooting eye was off.
Kentucky needed this game, and this Bearcats team, in the worst way. No team remaining in the tournament is as physical or as tough as Cincinnati, and Kentucky took their best shot with aplomb. The crucible of the NCAA Tournament works to your advantage if it gets hottest early, and that’s what we saw today. Even though the Bearcats were true to their poor-shooting reputation, they were equally true to their reputation for toughness, physicality, and rebounding. Those factors combined to extend Kentucky more than they have been in a while, and that’s just what the doctor ordered for this legendary run.
Sometimes, the tournament itself can conspire to thwart you, or to temper you. I think Kentucky just got a good bit of tempering, and they needed it. It will serve them well going forward.
More later in the postmortem.