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Growing Pains

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee game was a disappointing one. There were a lot of things that went wrong, and as we all know it resulted in the Cats first SEC loss.

There are a lot of things that went wrong in this game, including the atrocious officiating, but instead of talking about everything went wrong, I want to go over the main issues I saw and feel that in order to make a title run, these have to improve.

1. Derek Willis, where are you?

What happened to Derek Willis? Derek is one of our two seniors who has the capabilities to make big shots when we need them, and lead this team to tough wins like the one Tuesday night. Unfortunately this year he has done the exact opposite. Last year he shot a phenomenal 44% from the 3-pt line.

This year he’s shooting 35%. He continually doesn’t show up in big road games. Whether it’s Louisville, where he shot 1-5 from the three point line, missed a wide open 3 to tie the game late, and on top of that missing a free throw at the end to bring UK back to a 3-point deficit.

Or Tuesday night when he shot 0-3 from the three point line while getting bullied on defense down low all night. I’m not sure what it is about him this year, but something is off. If we want any shot at getting to the Final Four, then Derek needs to step up in a big way.

2. Isaiah Briscoe, what happens to you when we play big games?

Isaiah has had a very odd year. Throughout the year, he has had some very good games, but it seems like when things get tight, or if we are playing a ranked opponent, he disappears. The only game he really showed up was at Vanderbilt. Other than that, just look at the evidence. Vs UCLA, he shot 4-14 with three very crucial turnovers.

At Louisville, he shot 1-5 with 8 points and basically had no impact on that game at all. Vs South Carolina, he had 0 points and seven turnovers, yes we won without him but where was he? Finally, Tuesday night vs Tennessee, his stats weren’t as bad, shooting 5-12 with 11 points, but he had two crucial turnovers as well as a lot of missed layups. He just never seems right when he plays big games. In order for UK to even think about getting to the final four, Briscoe has to step up his game when it matters.

3. Freshman, being Freshman.

Now this one, I am not too worried about. De’Aaron Fox had his first truly bad game, while Monk scored a lot of points but on terrible shooting (7-19) taking some really ugly shots. Bam looked great, and Wenyen only scored two points but was playing good defense and getting rebounds (9).

Away from the numbers, there was a lot of back and forth between these guys Tuesday night. Whether it was frustration with a play, or getting mad because of a defensive lapse, it was just a bit chaotic on the court. They have to learn what it takes to win games like Tuesday night. The good thing is, there is still another month until March.

Overall, I’m not pulling my hair out too much about this game. These are the kind of games that the Cats can look back on and learn a lot from. They overlooked playing at Tennessee, beating South Carolina and playing Kansas in 5 days made it hard to get up for a team that was 10-9. But that is exactly what UK needed.

Hopefully, they will learn a lot from this game and be able to continue to make improvements throughout the year, because no game in March should be overlooked.