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Another classic Julius Randle face (Photo © Kim Klement)
Well, out of all the weekends in Kentucky basketball history– this was certainly one of them (*Drew Franklin voice). Kentucky’s 22-9 regular season puttered across the finish line yesterday with a blow out loss to the #1 ranked Florida Gators on the road. Kentucky suffered its second largest margin of defeat in the John Calipari era, falling to Florida by 19 points. The lofty expectations for this team at the start of the season have quietly disappeared over the past month. When it’s all said and done though, judgment time has finally come. Kentucky will start its post-season bid in the SEC tournament on Friday night against the winner of Alabama and LSU. Talk is cheap at this point, and Kentucky will be in control of how they put the ink on the page to end this story. Let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly from the weekend.
1) UK Hoops make it to the SEC tournament championship, falling just short by 1-point to Tennessee
The UK Hoops team came up just short this weekend on a bit of a redemption tour in the women’s SEC tournament. The 12th ranked Cats reached the championship game against Tennessee by virtue of a win over the top seed, and top-5 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Kentucky fell just short, dropping a heartbreaker to Tennessee by 1-point. The weekend was successful for Kentucky though, and likely provided just the right kind of momentum Matthew Mitchell’s squad needed heading into the NCAA tournament. Kentucky started the season on a high, beating a number of top ranked teams including Louisville and Baylor. Mitchell’s squad hit a major downward spiral mid-season, but climbed its way back into contention over the past few weeks. This weekend’s deep run in the SEC tournament capped off a major turnaround for a team hoping to capitalize on home court advantage to start the NCAA tournament. Good luck to the Cats as they await their NCAA tournament seeding.
2) Former Cats in the NBA balled out today
A host of former Kentucky Wildcats in the NBA made headlines today/tonight with dazzling performances. Anthony Davis led the way with 32 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 6 blocks. Davis becomes the first player 20 or younger with 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a single game since Shaq in 1992-1993.
Jodie Meeks had a career night for the lowly Lakers, pouring in 42 points on 6-11 shooting from behind the arc.
DeMarcus Cousins had an impressive double-double for the Kings, finishing with 28 points and 20 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo may have had the crazy stat line of all, dishing out a stunning 18 assists with ZERO turnovers. Can he come give our Kentucky team a few passing lessons?
3) The 16-0 run
Kentucky found a way to mount a scoring surge– ignited by the best 5 minutes of defense Kentucky has played in a while– that led to a 16-0 run against the #1 team in the country. A 16-0 run against any team is impressive, but especially against a team with as stingy of a defense as Florida’s. Kentucky wasn’t able to sustain the momentum, but the 5 minute stretch gave Kentucky a chance to pull within striking distance. For an offense that has looked awfully shaky lately, it was a brief beacon of light and hopefully something Kentucky can study on tape and take something from…
4) Dakari Johnson’s offense and energy
There weren’t a ton of bright spots in Saturday’s game, but Dakari Johnson provided a few encouraging moments. Johnson’s energy off the bench was inspiring, and no player on the team seems to bring more fire to the court than Johnson these days. Calipari was so impressed by his performance that he admitted after the game that Dakari needs to (and will from now on) be starting. Calipari said he is the only guy out there “having fun.” Dakari has shown a knack for finishing with his back to the basket lately, and gives Kentucky a decent go-to option in the post when the offense has stalled.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Kentucky wasn’t great on Saturday by any stretch of the imagination, but that Florida team is good. The Gators are firing on all cylinders right now, and have the necessary pieces to make a Final 4 run or more. Florida’s defense is unrelenting. Florida has 3-point shooting threats, and post players who can score in the paint. Florida also has a veteran guard in Scottie Wilbekin who knows how to pull the strings to get his team going. Wilbekin always seems to make the right play when the Gators need it the most. For two games now this season against Kentucky, Wilbekin has been the guy who quieted Kentucky’s run and essentially ended any hopes of an upset bid.
1) The First Half
I don’t think we need to break this down too much. The defense was bad. The offense was nearly non-existent aside from James Young. The effort was hit or miss. The energy was lacking. Overall, it was frustrating.
2) Kentucky’s SEC tournament draw
Well, this could go many ways actually. Some might say Kentucky got a good draw. Some might disagree. Kentucky managed to avoid Tennessee and Florida (two of the hottest teams in the SEC right now), but found itself with a potential first game of the tourney against an LSU team that seems to have Kentucky’s number. There’s no sugar-coating it… LSU is a bad match up for Kentucky. If the theory holds though that it’s really difficult to beat a team 3 times in a row, maybe Kentucky will figure it out this time around.
3) Kentucky’s offense and Kentucky’s free throws
Kentucky’s offense, other than a 5-minute stretch, struggled mightily on Saturday. Granted, some of that was due to Florida’s impressive defense. But Kentucky didn’t look in sync for much of the game. Kentucky had 14 turnovers, but it felt like even more than that. Kentucky was 15-25 from the line for another head-scratching free throw performance.
4) Patrick Patterson’s injury
A big round of well wishes from the Big Blue Nation for Patrick Patterson, who will miss 7-10 days with a sprained right elbow.
1) Kentucky’s shot selection in crucial moments
This wasn’t the first game that Kentucky failed to seize an opportunity by putting together multiple possessions in a row that ended with bad shot selection. The Florida game was no different. When Kentucky pulled within 6, the next few possessions were bad. Really bad. Calipari called the shots “throws,” hardly able to contain his disgust in the post-game interviews. Kentucky forced two early shots in the shot clock that allowed Florida a couple of easy baskets. And by then, a game seemingly within reach, completely got away from the Cats.
2) The psyche… of everyone
I’m not sure where the team’s psyche stands right now. I’m not sure where Big Blue Nation’s psyche stands right now. I’m not sure where my psyche stands right now. There was something very telling in Julius Randle’s post-game quote, “We’ve got to get this thing going. We don’t know what we’ve got to do, but we’ve got to get it going.”
His words had a sense of desperation to them… Like a team that sees the finish line coming way too fast. Time has all but run out for this Kentucky team to “figure it out.” The SEC tournament COULD provide a chance for Kentucky to put together a little run, or to find something within themselves to push for a positive ending to this up and down season. This season has been disappointing for everyone involved. And I mean everyone. I think Cal thought this team was going to be the team to get #9… or at least have a really legitimate shot at doing so. The fans were practically foaming at the mouth when Big Blue Madness rolled around. The players talked about championship dreams. The national media pumped some air into the balloon of expectation as well. Everyone saw this going differently. Whether or not Kentucky was ever going to win a national championship with this group or not, I don’t think anyone saw things going THIS way.
As Aaron Harrison said… this team still has a chance to write a different ending, a good ending, for this story. But can it happen?
With the regular season in the book, it’s on to the postseason. Kentucky hasn’t had the season that we all thought they would have, but that’s in the past. Put every bad loss behind you and look on to competing in the SEC tournament. Part of Kentucky’s problem is that they are Kentucky. They get every team’s best shot in every game on the schedule, no matter what caliber of team they are. I noticed over the season that players seem to have had career highs against Kentucky. I was also curious about how a certain team’s best performer against Kentucky faired in the game prior to the matchup with Kentucky and the game following it. Would they have an equally good game or would they have a Kentucky hangover? I went back to all of Kentucky’s losses to find out.
|Opponent||Top Performer||Points Before UK||Points Against UK||Points Following Game|
|Michigan State||Keith Appling||11||22||3|
|LSU||Johnny O’ Bryant III||18||29||23|
|South Carolina||Brenton Williams||7||24||26|
For the most part, players would have an average game before they played Kentucky, have a really good or career game against Kentucky, and then keep up that level of play. With Kentucky playing Friday in the SEC tournament, you can almost guarantee whoever they play will bring their A game. Now, It’s time for Kentucky to bring their A game. Go CATS!
(Via Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As kids, we would call “do over” when something didn’t work out the way we expected. The postseason is hopefully a “do over” for the Kentucky basketball team. Of course, it’ll take more than saying it to make it happen.
A veteran-laden team like Florida exposes Kentucky’s defensive lapses better than most opponents. The best example of that came after the Cats cut a 21-point halftime lead to six with 12 minutes remaining. Scottie Wilbekin swished a dagger of a three-point shot when the Cats misplayed a pick-and-roll situation (a play that was a key element of the scouting report but which UK defenders struggled to execute frequently).
But defense has never been this team’s strong suit at any point this season. However, until the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season, the Wildcats ranked in or just outside the nation’s top 10 in offensive efficiency. So I looked at arguably the best stretch of the season for UK, threes games during the holiday break in which the Cats handled two conference champions and then blew out an SEC foe.
Against Belmont, Louisville (the only ranked team UK has beaten) and Mississippi State, Kentucky averaged 84 points per game and averaged getting 47 points per game in the paint. In those three contests, UK shot 59 percent on attempts inside the three-point line, averaged only 10 turnovers per game and outscored their opponents by an average of nine points a night on second-chance points.
One of the few positives out of the thumping at Florida on Saturday was the offensive performance in the second half. UK shot 54 percent from the field, including 58 percent on two-point shots. They had only three turnovers (with four assists), outscored Florida by five on second-chance points and 28-18 on points-in-the-paint. You’ll notice that those numbers match up quite well with that late December-early January stretch.
Until Julius Randle came alive late in the first half, Kentucky was slogging through yet another sub-30 percent first half of shooting. When you miss as many shots as the Cats have been missing, you look tentative, timid or whatever other word one wants to use.
Kentucky’s best hope for having some fun in March is to keep playing offense the way it did in the second half against the Gators, while hopefully coming to a better understanding of time-and-score situations, to know the difference good shots and bad shots. At least twice after cutting that lead to six and putting some pressure on the Gators, UK players took a shot six seconds into a possession. And there were at least four scoreless possessions when a UK player drew a crowd of defenders, only to force a bad shot rather than finding teammates who were open and should have been visible.
Dakari Johnson’s low post scoring is something to build on, as is getting Randle an opportunity to work in space more often (taking and making a few jumpers would do wonders for him in that area). During that highly-productive stretch we referenced earlier, Alex Poythress averaged nine points per game and it would be nice to see him get back to dunking as many balls as possible (he has only one during this late-season offensive slide).
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network
–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for “The Leach Report”
By Ally Tucker on ©March 09th, 2014 @ 9:01pm
With the major conference tournament starting this week and the NCAA tournament just around the corner, the best month in college basketball has begun. With all of the action going on around the country, it can be tough to keep up. Here’s a breakdown of the major conference tournament brackets (with the exception of the Big 10, which still has games in play) as well as the most recent “Bubble Watch” from Joe Lunardi.
The Toronto Raptors will be without Patrick Patterson for the next 7-10 days, as the former Wildcat has suffered a sprained right elbow. A Raptors spokesman made the announcement just hours before they tip-off with the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. Toronto’s coach, Dwane Casey, mentioned that Patterson’s arm had been bothering for a couple of weeks now. He aggravated it again during their 99-87 victory over his former team, the Sacramento Kings. After Patterson agreed to have it evaluated, management decided to give him some time off to let it heal. “Only thing is rest that’s going to heal it and that’s unfortunate for us,” Casey said.
Losing Patterson will hurt the Raptors, as their depth at the forward position simply isn’t there. With the playoff race heating up, the Raptors need to get every win that they can to improve their seed. Since acquiring Pat Pat on Dec. 9th, they have taken off behind his strong play as their 6th man. As a Raptor, Patterson is averaging 9.7 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game, playing about 24 minutes a night. In his absence, Toronto will have to rely on fellow reserve, Tyler Hansbrough, whose averages are barely half of Patterson’s. While Patterson’s stats aren’t the best, his help mainly comes from his defensive tenacity. “We still have guys that we can go to, but Pat just brings a different dynamic from all the other bigs on the team,” says teammate, John Salmons. He gets his teammates working harder, especially the other reserves when they replace the starters. Add on a 44% shooting average from the three-point line, and that makes him a big contributor for Toronto.
We wish you well Patrick, hope to see you back on the court soon!