As soon as the game turned on, I’m sure most of the BBN wanted to turn the game off. The Volunteers came out of the gates hot, knocking down shot after shot, and pushing this young Kentucky squad off their spots with their physicality. Then the Rob Dillingham show took over.
The freshman guard helped propel the Cats back into this game as he erupted for 17 points on 6-10 shooting and 5/6 from 3, which led to only a four-point deficit heading into the half of 46-42.
Looking at the second half, it was almost a carbon copy of the first. The Vols pushed out to a big lead, and Dillingham and Sheppard helped push the Cats back in this game right until the end. Unfortunately, the defensive and rebounding struggles made the hill too steep to climb.
This SEC part of the season is now hanging on by a thread after these two losses this week. With matchups against Vanderbilt and Gonzaga on the docket for this week, the BBN is likely going to start to check out. Going to be interesting to see how the rest of this season goes.
Now let’s take a look at a few things to know from tonight’s win/loss:
Rebounding contributes to slow start
The Vols came out red-hot from the field and opened up an early double-digit lead over the Cats. The biggest contributing factor to the slow start for the UK tonight is something that has been a thorn in the team's side all year… rebounding.
At this point, the weaknesses are what they are, but they were highlighted throughout the night, especially with defensive rebounding.
This team is trending in the wrong direction at the moment. Rebounding has to be fixed if they hope to make any noise.
Defense is getting worse
I don’t think there is much more we can say about it. This Kentucky defense is bad... really bad.
In the Coach Cal era, his teams have prided themselves on being able to get stops on the defensive end of the floor. Well, not with this team.
For there to be any type of turn-around, the defense has to get better. At this point, though, I think it’s fair to say it will just continue to be this.
Freshman lead the way
Like most John Calipari teams since he arrived in Lexington, this squad is led by its elite freshman. Each night it seems like one player steps up to help keep this team in games, and that happened once again this evening against the Vols.
Whether it be Reed Sheppard, Rob Dillingham, DJ Wagner, or another, this team goes as this group does.
For this Kentucky team to get back to the National Title Contender we saw several weeks back, it will take this 2023 class to continue rounding into mature players at this level. The potential is there, now it's just putting it all together.
DJ Wagner’s case for most valuable player continues
The Cats have played three games without Wagner this season, and have lost all three.
Battling an ankle injury that has been nagging him since the Miami game earlier this season, it has become very clear that his presence is the key to this team. Whether it be running the point or helping be physical on the perimeter while on defense, what he brings to this squad just can't be filled by another player.
This team is now on the ropes in the SEC as they take two losses this week with Wagner on the bench. His return can not come soon enough.