The Kentucky Wildcats beat the Bellarmine Knights in Lexington on Tuesday night by a score of 60-41.
To say the Cats got off to a slow start would be both a true and false statement. How so? Well, it took Kentucky over four minutes before they got their first bucket as they got down 6-0 early.
Definitely a slow start, but the problem is it wasn't just the start, UK struggled the entire first half, and well into the second half, as they couldn't buy a shot despite some very impressive defense. They went into the half tied at 21 with the Knights.
After the break, despite yet another slow start, the Cats finally got things going and broke away thanks to 11-0 and 12-0 runs. In just over eight minutes of game time, Kentucky went from down four to up 16, which turned out to be an insurmountable lead.
It wasn't pretty and a lot of improvements need to be made, but a win is a win.
Next up, the Cats will travel to London to take on the Michigan Wolverines in another big non-conference matchup.
The defense was impressive...
Kentucky’s defense was lights out from the start forcing multiple shot clock violations and difficult shot attempts. Bellarmine doesn't have the most high-powered offense, but they are an extremely disciplined and efficient team.
The concern for many coming into this game was the Knights’ slow tempo, halfcourt style of play and their no dribble, screens, and back-cuts offense. A lot of teams struggle to keep Bellarmine from scoring, but against younger teams and/or teams that lack eye discipline and awareness, BU can get easy buckets.
However, the Cats clearly came prepared because Bellarmine seldomly had open looks, and they struggled to ever really get into a rhythm. UK has historically dominated teams defensively with their athleticism and length, and while this team certainly has that those traits, this defensive effort was a product of focus and discipline.
...but the offense was not
Well, I’ve told you how well the defense was, so naturally, we have to discuss the offense. Man, this offense is brutal to watch. It was so bad that boos rained down in Rupp Arena during the second half. While the Cats have beat up and scored at will against a couple cupcakes, they’ve really struggled to consistently score in the other three games this season.
Calipari continues to run a dribble handoff offense, where everyone stands around until ten seconds left on the shot clock when they just hope and pray someone can find an open shot. Some Cal teams have been better at this than others, some have taken time to figure it out, but some just aren't meant to do it and this looks like one of those teams.
Cats’ fans clamored for Cal to change his offensive philosophy—get veterans, get shooters, spread the floor—but it turns out the offensive inefficiencies flow much deeper than the amount of shooters Kentucky has on a given team. Quite simply, they struggle to get those types of players consistent looks or open up the lane for the non-shooters.
It also doesn't help when UK continues to run out lineups with four non-shooters. For example, when Kentucky was struggling to score early in the game, Cal put in Sahvir Wheeler, Chris Livingston, Daimion Collins, and Lance Ware at the same time. CJ Fredrick was also in the game, but when there’s only one deep threat on the court, he’s never going to get open shot attempts.
This team has a ton of talent, but something has to change and it starts with the head man.
Dominance on the glass
Of course, Oscar Tshiebwe did his thing down in the paint grabbing double digit rebounds for the umpteenth time since he’s been in Lexington, but the team as a whole crashed the glass hard.
To be fair, Bellarmine is undersized and not the most athletic team, but rebounding hasn't been Kentucky’s strong suit this season, so dominating the glass was no guarantee. However, as mentioned above, the Cats looked locked in on the defensive end, which apparently translated to their effort on the offensive and defensive glass because this was probably the best they’ve done in that area so far this year.
There probably have been some questions about Kentucky’s physicality outside of Tshiebwe, but it’s clearly a deficiency that the Cats are addressing and hopefully continue to improve.
There weren't nearly as many positives in this one as negatives, but there’s a lot to work with and with the right adjustments, this team still has so much potential.
Bonus: Tyler Ulis returns
The best part of tonight was seeing former UK great Tyler Ulis return to the court, as he was tonight’s choice to do the ‘Y.’
At least we got this moment tonight at Rupp!— Dylan Ballard (@DylanBallard_UK) November 30, 2022
Tyler Ulis as the “Y” pic.twitter.com/qefWuib0PT
Biggest cheer of the night: Tyler Ulis, using a crutch after his serious car accident a few months ago, is the Y here at Rupp. He and MKG, here to promote his foundation, have been about the only things for these fans to get loud about.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) November 30, 2022