Kentucky’s youth, inexperience, and lack of perimeter shooting appeared, and did so prominently, as the Wildcats fell 76-64 to the Richmond Spiders.
The Wildcats struggled to score, shooting only 36 percent from the field and went 0-10 from the three-point line and only 60.6 percent from the free throw line. On top of that, the Wildcats turned the ball over 21 times and only had five assists on 22 made field goals.
Meanwhile, Richmond didn’t put together a great first half but started to put things together in the second half, going on a run that ultimately put the game out of reach for the Wildcats.
Now, Kentucky has several looming questions. Who is going to step up on offense? Is there anyone that can consistently be viewed as a perimeter shooting threat? How will the Wildcats improve ball movement on the offensive end?
Things don’t get a lot easier from here on out for Kentucky. A matchup with Kansas looms on Tuesday, and other matchups against the likes of Notre Dame, UCLA, and Louisville are coming within the next couple weeks.
To build a solid non-conference resume before going into conference play, this young group will need to figure things out and figure them out fast.
Here is what assistant coach Joel Justus and some of the players had to say following the game.
Q. No three-pointers today. How do you address the shooting? Is it guys just taking more shots, getting different shooters on the floor? How do you fix that?
JOEL JUSTUS: I think you got to go and look back at the film, look at the tape and see exactly where our shots came from for the whole game. I think you got to look and see how we were played within the offense. I think you got to see what your screens looked like. You got to see what your cuts look like. You got to see what your passes look like. Before you can go and look at the end result, you got to really look and see the building blocks of your offense and see kind of what happened. It’s early. It’s young in the season. And obviously you’ve got to give some credit to Richmond and how they played defense before you can go and just make a statement in terms of we need this, this and this, especially this early right after it.
Q. They were obviously veteran across the board, but they had a really bothersome point guard who has got a chance to be an all-time leader in steals in Division I basketball. You had a freshman point guard out there a lot of times today. How much were you concerned about that matchup going in and what’s your evaluation of how Devin (Askew) handled that today?
JOEL JUSTUS: Well, I think, I mean, when you look at a young man like (Jacob) Gilyard, you are obviously aware of the kind of impact that he has had on many games during his time at Richmond, and then you come in and you have to be prepared for that. You have to be kind of cognizant of that with your players and we were. Our guys knew how good not only Gilyard is, was, but also Blake Francis. And I think that our guys are smart enough to know the premium that you have to have on backcourt play to be successful here, be successful anywhere. I think you tip your hat to those guys, especially. They imposed their will on the game many times before tonight. We were able to identify that with our guys. They saw it. So like I said, I think that this is an opportunity for our guys to learn. It’s a lesson for them, especially in that backcourt, how young we are, and I think we’ll grow. We’ll get better from this.
Q. What do you hope the guys learn from this, what they will take away from this? And also, how much were you guys trying—it looked like Olivier (Sarr) was much more active tonight. What was that about?
JOEL JUSTUS: I think your first question, I think that we have to become a little bit more unselfish on the offensive end. I think you look at the fact we had zero assists in the second half. I think as coaches, that was something that was very obvious as we were playing the ball was sticking a little bit. You only have five for the game and obviously all those were in the first half. So you got to look at that early on in how we want to play, who we are. Defensively, you give up 59% from the floor, almost 60% in the second half, and we got to find out where our lapses were. We got to take better care of the ball. Twenty-one turnovers is something that’s a little too high, even as aggressive as (head coach John Calipari) wants to play and as our teams here in the past have played. We’ll tend to have double-figure turnovers. But, hey, look, there were holes tonight that hopefully we’ll learn from, we’ll have lessons on, and we’ll grow as a young team. Your second question, in terms of Olivier, I thought that we liked our matchup. I thought that he was a guy that we could play through, and (Calipari) felt the same way, that he wanted to go after him early and especially when (Grant) Golden got in a little bit of foul trouble, we knew that he would have to back up a little bit in terms of his aggressive play on the defensive end, and it was good to see Olivier play that way early and then you know what you got now.
Q. You’ve already mentioned zero assists in the second half, and then 21 turnovers for the game. Was that a little bit of, you think, just panic on offense when you got behind or the game stayed close and your guys just didn’t handle things the way you wanted?
JOEL JUSTUS: I think there was a variety of turnovers. We had a couple rebounds stripped from us we had a couple—I mean, there was the one deflected ball in front of our bench that was just a pass-and-catch turnover. We had a couple of those. We had a couple travels. So 21 is not necessarily through your offense, but sometimes, hey, look, this is, this was a team that was going to present veteran moxie. We knew that coming in, and we knew that we were going to have to play really well to win the game and we didn’t, and that’s partly due to the way Richmond played and, I would say and I think everyone in our locker room would say, some of those turnovers, some of the missed shots, obviously the missed free throws, those are self-inflicted. But to beat a very good team, an experienced team, you’re going to have to play really well. You’re going to have to play 40 minutes, oftentimes 30 seconds of possession. And, shoot, there was a period of time there in the second half where we had, consecutive stops, we didn’t have any. We might get one, but to string together consecutive stops, we weren’t able to do that for a while.
Q. You guys outrebounded (Richmond) 54-31 and had 21 offensive rebounds but seemed to miss a lot of shots around the rim. What do you kind of attribute that to?
JOEL JUSTUS: I think some of that is nerves. I think some of that is first-game or second-game jitters that you’re going to have with these guys. What we do know is these guys are competitive, talking about our team, they’re guys that want to win, they are trying hard, they’re practicing hard. And, hey, look, I think sometimes the ball doesn’t go exactly the way you want it to go, but your effort, yeah, is great. To get 21 (offensive) rebounds, that means we were going. Those don’t just fall in your lap. You’ve got to have an effort to go and offensive rebound, to have a presence on the boards. So I think once again it’s a lesson for our guys. It’s a lesson for our staff to go and see kind of what we can do to get better and especially with a quick turnaround like this.
Q. First of all, I would like you to make a comment about the free throw. You missed 11, 12 free throws. Do you believe that was kind of a lack of concentration about your players? And also, how would you evaluate (Brandon Boston Jr.’s) performance?
JOEL JUSTUS: I think, as I’ve said, it’s a young season, it’s a first opportunity for our guys to be in close games, to be in a big game like this to where every basket matters, every possession matters, both on the offensive end and on the defensive end. Our guys, sometimes free throws are a product of, maybe missed free throws, are a product of trying too hard, but I think it’s not a lack of concentration. I would say it’s potentially concentrating too much. But our guys will be in the gym and they’re going to spend time. And, hey, look, it’s a lesson for us. It’s a lesson for them. I think for your follow up, I think (Boston) has done some nice things early this season. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to be in position as to where he’s going to be asked to score the ball. He’s going to be asked to create, and we just got to go back and look at each one of his touches, his minutes and continue to get better. Everything at this time of year, win or lose, is a lesson.
Q. Do you anticipate having Keion (Brooks Jr.) back for Tuesday (versus Kansas) and if not, how do you find Olivier (Sarr) some more rest? It looks like he was noticeably tired out there in the second half at points?
JOEL JUSTUS: Our medical staff will update us on Keion if there’s any changes. I think we’re going at it with the same, I guess, protocol in that we’re—that we have been going at, so I don’t know that I can answer your question there, other than guys that are ready will play, guys that are ready to practice tomorrow at 1 o’clock will practice. We’ll see who is ready to play there on Tuesday night. In terms of rest, I mean, yeah, I think Olivier’s an experienced guy, so you trust him out there in a game like this. You kind of hopped on his back there for a little bit and we needed to ride him. But I think there’s opportunity there for guys to play a couple more minutes. We ran into a little bit of foul trouble today with Lance (Ware) early in the first half, and in terms of moving forward we have got to be ready to have everybody active. We have got to have everybody ready to play, and with it being such a young season you never know. Sometimes it’s one guy that is in foul trouble that gives an opportunity for someone else to step up, like you saw against Morehead State with (Cam’Ron) Fletcher. So I think all guys are ready and they’re ready to contribute when their name is called.
Q. You talked about (Brandon Boston Jr.) is going to be called upon at times to score, to create offense. Is he the guy, does it feel like he needs, you’ve got to have a guy that when all else fails you can put it in his hands and he will get you buckets efficiently, create you offenses. Does he need to kind of have that mentality, that he’s going to be that guy for you?
JOEL JUSTUS: I think he has the mentality and I think, I’m obviously speaking for Coach (John) Calipari here and the rest of our staff, I think that when you’re coaching young guys like that and they’re in that position, they have to respect the position. I’m not saying that (Boston) doesn’t. I think he does. He’s got to be a guy that takes extreme pride in being a guy that we call upon to get buckets, and that’s our job to teach him that. (Boston) is a competitor. He’s a fighter and he wants to win, much like the rest of our guys on this team. Hey, look, sometimes as (Calipari) has said, it’s great to have multiple guys be able to go and get 25 (points) in a game because when you’re in that NCAA Tournament, somebody’s going to get it going, and I think you’ve seen the great teams here have had multiple guys get 25. So while it might be (Boston), we’re training everybody to be ready to step up when that time is as we try to get to March. It’s a long ways away, but for us, I think this is a lesson for us that we must learn from, and with a quick turnaround we’ll be able to see what we have learned this afternoon and be ready to go Tuesday night (versus Kansas).
Brandon Boston Jr.
On lack of assists in the second half …
“I feel like we we’re into the game too much. I feel like that’s something we have to work on everyday just getting one more, getting our teammates involved and knocking down shots and making the game easier for each other.”
On recognizing his offensive responsibility for this year …
“I feel like I have a big responsibility uplifting and encouraging the team to just fight through adversity all the time and just take it day by day. We’re a new team and we played against an experienced team and we just are taking this one game at a time.”
On experience against youth …
“It showed tremendously, you know they were going down, rebounding, making plays, executing and those things we just weren’t doing.”
On the new environment at Rupp with no ability to feed off of the crowd …
“We just have to stay locked into the game all 40 minutes and just trust our work. We need to go out there and compete all game long.”
On foul line trouble and 21 turnovers …
“I feel like those are two things we can fix in practice. If we would have lowered those numbers, we would have come out with a win.”
On the biggest lesson for tonight’s game and motivation for the next …
“The biggest lesson we learned is we gotta hit free throws. We gotta take care of the ball and we just have to play as a team, honestly. I feel like this had to happen to us now. I’d rather for it to happen to us now rather than later. I feel like next game we will come in with a clear mind and a fresh mindset.”
On improving shooting behind the arc …
“I feel like we just gotta get out there every day. That’s something we’re constantly working on every day. We just gotta get in the gym and put up more shots just to get our confidence back up. Our guys’ bodies are changing and there’s different ways to shoot so we’ve got to keep tackling it every day.
On hitting 3s in practice …
“Yeah, we’ve been hitting 3’ in practice and like I said that’s something we work on all day, every day in the mornings and again at night. It’s just a game that they weren’t falling.”
On his activity level tonight and the factors that led into it …
“We knew it was about to be a tough game, so Coach just talked to me after the last game that I needed to bring energy from the jump and that’s what I tried to do.”
On if today’s workload affected his play today …
“No, I didn’t play that much last year because of foul trouble, so it’s something that I need to get used to now.”
On his preparedness going into today’s game having played Richmond earlier in his career …
“Obviously, the focus was, just be ready because this is an experienced team. They’ve been together since my sophomore year I think. We played them. I’ve got to do a way better job of being a better leader on the court, making sure guys are locked in, and making sure I’m locked in too and just making sure we just do the right play all the time and to take care of the ball. You know just the little things that’s what matters the most.”
On the lessons for younger players on the team …
“True, I mean it’s a lesson for all of us, but once again it’s the second game of the year. We have to pick our heads up because we have a whole lot of games coming up. We have another game on Tuesday and we just got to get ready for that one, watch film. Learn from our mistakes and just move on you know.”
On how he prepares the younger teammates for the quick turnaround Tuesday night …
“Don’t overthink it you know? Like I said on the court all the time, ‘It’s the next play. You make a mistake, next play.’ You can’t just stay on that one and put your head down and all of that. It’s the same games after games, plays after plays. I think it’s just next play keep your head up, just think about making the right play and everything will take care of itself.”
On the lesson from this early loss in the season …
“From that loss, we all learn, because its everybody. We are a team so it’s not just the freshmen its everybody. I hope we learn that we are better, just taking care of the ball and making the right plays you know, like just knowing that teams are going to just be more experienced than us down the stretch. But we just have to play to our strengths.”
On if the large number of turnovers today were self-inflicted or mainly imposed by Richmond …
“I think it was both you know. I think a lot of times they did a great job on defense coming from the back, tipping the ball just as soon as we get it and stuff like that. I think we just got to communicate with each other, just letting one another know that that’s coming, a trap is coming. That somebody is trying to steal the ball or something like that. It’s just playing with poison you know.”