Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, you’ve already read the excellent review of the game by Justin Hodges. I thought I would offer a few more observations, and extend the remarks Justin made just a little bit.
First of all, I want to congratulate UCLA on a fine basketball game. Considering the competition, this is by far the best game UCLA has played this season, because no matter what you think about UK’s defense in this game, it was very good. The Bruins simply made tough, guarded shots, and also made almost all their wide-open shots, which is not a common thing. Give the Bruins credit for bringing their best into Rupp Arena, and if you’re inclined to cast a bunch of shade on Kentucky’s defense, stop, review the tape, and give UCLA their due.
Also to their credit, UCLA ran very good half-court offense, isolated our freshmen on mostly more experienced players, and Steve Alford made a very good decision to force UK into a half-court game. Make no mistake, UCLA loves to run. Their average possession time is only 13.6 seconds, exactly the same as Kentucky. Alford understood that UK simply out-athleted them, and that his team was better in the half court than UK was. Smart coaching move, and UCLA fans in particular would be well advised to acknowledge that.
A few notable statistics:
UCLA shot an eFG% of 60.6%. No matter who you play, that will win you almost every game.
Kentucky shot only 46% eFG. That will lose a lot of tough, close games.
Kentucky missed 13 layups. I counted them. UCLA missed five. If you figure five or six as normal, that represents a minimum of 12 Kentucky points.
UK made only 67% from the line. Normally, I would reluctantly take that given UK’s other advantages, but the Bruins made only one fewer free throw on 6 fewer attempts. That hurt.
Kentucky’s defensive rebounding numbers were a problem. UK is not likely to be the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, but they should be a very good defensive rebounding team. They only got 63% of their defensive rebounds, and they are a bigger and more athletic team than the Bruins. They should go at least 75% against UCLA, and did not. UK actually won the OR battle, but only technically at 39% to 37%.
Kentucky took 13 (!) more shots than UCLA. 65-70% of the time, that statistic alone will win you the game.
None of these things are systemic or particularly worrisome in early December. Hot teams will often beat better teams, and I’m not saying Kentucky was "better" in the absolute sense, but they had a lot of advantages, including home court and more shots that should’ve been decisive. They were negated by three things:
- UCLA’s hot shooting;
- UK’s poor defensive rebounding;
- The Wildcats’ inability to make layups.
That’s it. You can’t do anything about the other team making tough shots. Defensive rebounding is mostly a matter of positioning and effort. Kentucky had good effort, but poor positioning. Finally, making layups is a skill that can be improved very easily with some practice, as can defensive rebounding.
So chin up, UK fans. This loss was tough primarily due to the back-to-back nature of the last two games against the Bruins, and to the legendary status of both teams. We’ll get over it, the team will fix these fairly minor faux pas, and next time we face a hot-shooting team, we’ll prevail.
I still love this team, and you should too.