The first loss of the season is always the toughest, and it makes it even tougher when it's the same team that's done it two years in a row. As UCLA ends Kentucky's 42 game home winning streak, we take a look at what really stood out in the 97-92 shootout.
In the first few minutes of the game, it was evident that Kentucky's youth was showing. This game was as close to a playoff atmosphere as the team will likely have all year. With four freshmen starting, the unit looked a little rattled to start. As soon as De'Aaron Fox got his jitters out, he began to take the game over. Whether it was scoring 7 of Kentucky's first 14 points or dishing out swift assists, Fox led the charge and had the Cats rolling early.
However, the youth showed itself again in the second half. The Bruins continually made shots from the perimeter and Kentucky simply failed to defend it. With not enough responses on the offensive end, there just wasn't enough to pull it through.
Kentucky's experienced leaders came into the game early and provided some great contributions. Isaiah Briscoe played physically; Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins both came in and hit a three and a layup each in the first ten minutes. Ultimately, the veterans couldn't do enough to keep the Cats in this. While a valiant effort from Briscoe, costly turnovers and missed opportunities hurt in the end. Willis and Hawkins simply could not find any shots to take.
Kentucky played to their strengths throughout this one. Doing what they have done all year, the Cats played fast and up-paced as well as in control. Getting shots up as quickly as four seconds into the shot clock, the Cats looked in control with their offensive game. Most of the shots just unfortunately did not go in. Every time the team went on a run to try and get back into the game, they kept giving up the momentum.
Despite trailing for most of the game, Kentucky kept UCLA star Lonzo Ball in check throughout the first half. Ball made his first shot of the game on the final possession of the first half with a step-back three-pointer. With just those 3 points along with just three assists and five turnovers, the defense on Ball was both phenomenal and crucial in keeping the game competitive in this first 20 minutes.
What the defense did on Ball, they could not do on any other Bruin. TJ Leaf had a monstrous game against Kentucky's bigs, and Isaac Hamilton could not be stopped. Without a collateral effort on Kentucky's side, the six players in double figures for UCLA was too much to overcome.
Rebounding absolutely killed Kentucky in this game, particularly in the beginning moments of the second half. Bam Adebayo simply failed to play tough, and UCLA had their way down low. The lack of rebounding allowed UCLA to gain all of the momentum in the second half. As the lead grew to double digits, the team simply failed to respond.
Malik Monk had his best Jamal Murray impersonation in the second half, ultimately ending with 24 points and a sequence of three triples hit in the second half. A common narrative in this game, the effort simply was not enough.
Despite all of the negatives in this game, the team came steamrolling with an incredible surge in the the final minute. A 9-1 run got the lead trimmed right back to 95-92, but free throws sealed it for the Bruins.
Toughness was something that UCLA had, and Kentucky had none of in this game. As a young team, they played like a young team. The schedule gets no easier for the Cats going forward, and if this team wants to get to conference play without much major damage done, they are going to have to be tougher than they showed today.