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Kentucky Basketball: Were the Wildcats a Second Half Team?

An analysis of Kentucky’s offensive and defensive efficiency numbers by half.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Buffalo vs Kentucky
Wenyen Gabriel knocked down five three pointers in the second half of the Alabama game in the SEC tournament during the hottest streak the Wildcats had all season.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky went to the half down 33 to 29 to Kansas State on Thursday. CBS reminded you that Bruce Weber and the other Wildcats don’t lose very often when they go into the locker room with a lead. You weren’t worried though, because Kentucky is a second half team. John Calipari and company gave it their best shot ultimately coming up short, but it begs the question, does Kentucky actually play better in the second half?

Kentucky had several double-digit comebacks this season, but were the Wildcats more efficient in the second half this season? Now that the dust has settled it’s a good time to take a look back at some of Kentucky’s best and worst performances of the season and analyze the offensive and defensive efficiency numbers by half.

As with most things this season, the Wildcats were inconsistent. Overall, Kentucky scored 1.15 points per possession (PPP) in the second half (1485 points on 1287 possessions) as compared to 1.04 during the opening twenty minutes (1343 points on 1294 possessions). When comparing offensive efficiency in the second half versus the first, UK had a higher offensive efficiency in the second half in 26 of 37 games. In other words, yes, Kentucky was a better offensive team in the second half than it was in the first.

However, UK’s defensive efficiency improved in the second half as compared to the first in only 13 of its 37 games this year. The Wildcats were a better defensive team in the early part of the game, allowing just 0.95 PPP in the first half (1229 points on 1294 possessions), as opposed to 1.06 in the second twenty minutes (1360 points on 1287 possessions). While the Cats scored more efficiently, their defense gave up more points per possession, making the original question a difficult one to definitively answer.

The worst defensive half of the season came in the second half of the second Texas A&M game, where the Wildcats gave up 1.48 PPP. Kentucky also gave up 1.45 PPP in the first half of the second Florida game where the Cats went on to lose 80-67.

But nothing showcased Kentucky’s inconsistency like the second game of the season against Vermont. Kentucky held the Catamounts to 0.67 PPP in the first half, but Vermont came out in the second half to torch the young Cats for 1.45 PPP.

Kentucky’s offense didn’t get any lower than the first Missouri game, when the Wildcats struggled to come up with 0.56 PPP in the first half. That kicked off a four game losing streak where the Cats wouldn’t get above a point per possession in the first half of any of those four. The season turned around at that point, though.

Kentucky’s best defensive performance came late in the season against Alabama in the SEC tournament. Kentucky only gave up 0.63 points per possession in the first half against what would eventually be an NCAA tournament round of 64 winner. The Cats turned around and came up with their best offensive half of the season in the second half of that same game. Calipari’s crew came up with an unbelievable 1.73 PPP to close out the win and cruise into the SEC championship game. UK followed up that performance with 1.32 PPP in the second half of the championship game against Tennessee. Another notable offensive performance came in that incredible second half comeback against West Virginia where the Wildcats put up 1.61 PPP.

Tempo free offensive statistics by half for Kentucky this season.

Ultimately, the numbers suggest that Cal’s Cats were a second half team, at least offensively, but were unable to do enough to overcome the defensive-minded Kansas State. For now, we look back at the 2017-18 season and reflect on some of the best performances of the year. Which half was the most memorable for you?