With 7:38 left in the second half and Kentucky leading Louisville by a bucket, De’Aaron Fox dribbled into trouble with Louisville playing a matchup zone defensively.
Fox was able to maintain his composure enough to find Derek Willis completely by himself at the top of the key for a wide-open look at a 3-pointer.
Willis missed, but Kentucky was able to get a stop on the next Louisville possession, which led to Bam Adebayo getting fouled around the rim the next time Kentucky had the ball coming the other way. Adebayo missed both free throws.
All of that was followed by a Malik Monk layup to give Kentucky a four-point lead, and then the Cardinals went on an 8-0 run in about a minute to regain a four-point advantage to force a Kentucky timeout.
The moral of the story is, you can’t miss out on great opportunities in arguably the biggest game of the (regular) season if you’re a young Kentucky team playing in one of the most hostile environments known to college basketball.
The ‘Cats fell to 10-2 on Wednesday night, marking just the second time in 10 tries that Louisville had beaten Kentucky with John Calipari at the helm (both times came in Louisville). Kentucky was a team playing in their first true road game of the season and it showed throughout the night.
When you glance at the box score, it makes sense why Kentucky lost.
They shot 39.7 percent from the field (23/58), missed 17 of their 22 3-point attempts, missed 10 of their 29 free throw attempts, got out-rebounded by four (40-36) and committed 13 turnovers.
And yet, they still were just a Malik Monk triple away from overtime against their hated rivals to the west.
Kentucky’s pick-and-roll approach let them down all night
Kentucky looked bad defensively against UCLA and North Carolina. Malik Monk’s 47 points bailed them out of one of those games, but he didn’t have the same magic he had in Vegas, shooting 6-for-17 from the field (including 1-of-9 from deep) in the loss.
The defense — specifically the pick-and-roll defense — is part of why Kentucky lost to the Cardinals.
Coming into the game, Quentin Snider was shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point range in Louisville’s first 11 games. That’s not great. The plan early on was to go under screens set for him on the perimeter, but in typical rivalry game fashion, Snider was on with his jumper, connecting on 10 of 19 shot attempts for 22 points.
Snider missed this attempt from 3 that he was allowed to walk into, but these kinds of defensive lapses hurt Kentucky against UCLA, North Carolina and Louisville on Thursday night.
Going underneath screens this badly is bound to not pay off, IMO. (Snider steps into a long 2 and drains it.) pic.twitter.com/LcJWGKMGpX— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) December 22, 2016
Fox did start going over screens more in the second half, which made it harder on Snider and Louisville’s other guards, but they did catch Kentucky in a few switches that didn’t end well.
Kentucky struggled with a few pick-and-rolls on the offensive end, too. This one in particular stood out.
The 'Cats get a switch. Adebayo has Snider on him. Clear mismatch. Two chances to get him the ball. Briscoe bricks a long 2. Not good. pic.twitter.com/KxQRJakhR9— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) December 22, 2016
De’Aaron Fox and Isaiah Briscoe each had a chance to get Bam Adebayo the ball with Quentin Snider guarding him off a switch. Neither player got him the basketball in the lane and it led to Briscoe bricking a really tough shot inside the arc. It was clearly a missed opportunity to get a likely two points while you’re down three in the second half.
The woes from the line
John Calipari teams usually are notoriously-bad shooters from the free-throw line.
After their 19-for-29 shooting performance on Wednesday night, Kentucky now sits at 202nd in the nation in terms of team free-throw shooting percentage.
Here’s a stat to sum up the struggles:
Kentucky missed 10 free throws last night.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) December 22, 2016
Bam Adebayo had five of those misses. All five of them came in the final eight minutes.
Throw in Derek Willis splitting a pair of free throws with Kentucky down 69-66 inside of the final minute and that’s six of Kentucky’s 10 misses at the charity stripe in the final eight minutes of the game.
(In those eight minutes, Kentucky trailed by no more than six points.)
The most backbreaking plays of the game went against Kentucky
These kinds of plays are just gut-wrenching for a young team on the road.
Adebayo forced a difficult shot from Donovan Mitchell, but the ‘Cats not only missed that rebound chance, they missed another chance on a bad miss from Snider that led another offensive rebound for Louisville and to the slam that lit up the whole building.
All of that happened with the ‘Cats down just two inside of the final four minutes.
The Cardinals tried to expose the Kentucky pick-and-roll defense again and Mitchell drove right down the lane with Adebayo switched onto him.
He misses the layup, but Jaylen Johnson nabbed the offensive rebound and the putback to give Louisville a 71-67 lead.
Who knows if Monk takes that ridiculous 3 to cut the lead back down to one on the next possession. If he doesn’t — which he probably doesn’t — Kentucky gets the last shot of regulation down two.
Instead, they need the Monk 3 from outside of the building to stay alive because of the tough Louisville offensive rebounding. (They had 12 on the night to Kentucky’s 11.)
Missed opportunities were aplenty for the ‘Cats, but they’ll be fine
Kentucky lost to a top-10 team on the road in their first road game against their biggest rival.
The sky isn’t falling. It’s probably just that deflating feeling of losing to Louisville, which to be fair, doesn’t (and hasn’t) happen much on the hardwood.
Malik Monk missed eight 3-point attempts. Isaiah Briscoe was 1-of-5 from the field. De’Aaron Fox had more turnovers (4) than assists (3).
And, Kentucky was still a 3-pointer away from overtime.
Missed chances can burn you sometimes, especially against one of the best teams in the country.
You add in Willis' 3, Adebayo's FTs and Monk's layup to make it 57-53 ... Kentucky leads by nine with 6+ minutes left.— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) December 22, 2016
Would've been huge.
But, despite the blown opportunities, Kentucky was right there in the end.
Wednesday brought another valuable experience for the ‘Cats, one that could certainly pay off when the Big Dance comes calling ... and potentially another meeting with Louisville because that how this crazy world works sometimes, right?