7 notes after a tough loss in Athens:
1. The many faces of Terrence Jones: We saw it all from T-Jones tonight. A first half in which he did nothing and saw Trey Thompkins eat him alive. A start of the 2nd half that saw him ultra-aggressive and likely the best player on the floor. And then we saw the foul bug bite him again, with his 4th coming on an absolutely silly reach-in. He came back in at the 6 minute mark, played tentatively and did not score again until the game was in doubt. Jones has, for whatever reason, fell in love with his jump shot, which really isn’t very good.
2. Foul Line Troubles: Kentucky came in shooting 71% from the free throw line. They shot 62.5% against Georgia. Georgia came in shooting 62% this season, and they shot 88.2% against Kentucky. They outscored UK from the charity stripe 30-10. Cats have to find a way to limit the fouls, because I did not see many bad officiating calls this game (no more than unusual), and if teams are shooting twice as many, or 3 times as many, free throws as the Cats, that will doom them.
3. Darius Miller was Finally Aggressive: And it turned out to not be much difference in the stat line. Miller was really pushing it hard to the basket today, something many fans have called for, and yet he didn’t play well. He struggled to finish around the basket, and was forced to play the 4-spot with Jones on the bench several times. He finished 2-11 from the field, and I am afraid I am starting to join the camp of those who think Miller just might not be as good as we want him to be. He is option 5 on this team at this point.
4. Defense Non-Existent: The first half was likely the worst defensive half of the year, or at least equal to the 1st half against Connecticut. Georgia’s offensive of screen and cuts seemed to confuse the Cats, and led to many open shots, layups, and dunks. Whether or not this was just a 1 game anomaly will be seen later, but certainly the defensive effort and execution was nowhere near where it needed to be to become a competitor in March.
5. First Half Struggles: No clue why the Cats have come out flat in the 1st half of 2 straight games, but this can not become a trend. There was not 1 single offensive category the Cats led in at halftime. UGA shot better from the field, 3-point line, free throw line, had more rebounds, steals, blocks, assists, and less turnovers than Kentucky. And generally that means bad news for a team. For Kentucky, it meant an 11-point deficit. UK was able to eliminate that gap fairly quickly in the 2nd half, but it makes you wonder if this would have been a close game if Kentucky had not come out flat.
6. Was that a zone?: Cats switched to a zone in the 2nd half, which worked for much of the time, allowing the Cats to take a lead. But, once Georgia figured that out, it was the same defensive ineptitude from the 1st half. On the positive side, it’s good to know Kentucky can play a zone effectively.
7. Road Worries: Don’t look now, but Kentucky has played 3 true road games, and has gone 1-2 in those game. Louisville was an impressive win, but Kentucky has more talent than both UNC and UGA, and was physically whipped in both of those games. They play at Alabama in 10 days. An Alabama team rebuilding. If the Cats struggle there, this team might not have the toughness to play well on the road. And you can’t win conference championships without that.
The only serious worry I come out of the Georgia game with is that Darius Miller played aggressive and still did not contribute much. All along, fans have thought that Miller would be a serious player on this team, and he still has flashes. But, he is far too inconsistent, and seems to still struggle mentally once the shots don’t fall. Other than that, this was a poor performance from Kentucky, but nothing stands out to me as being a long term problem. Things like foul shooting come on go. Things like 3-point shooting come and go. The Cats got trapped by a dangerous Georgia team on the rise, but luckily Auburn and LSU come to Rupp this week, meaning UK should be able to lick their wounds just fine over the next 10 days. At Alabama will be a HUGE game in my mind. Getting a road conference win against a decent team will go miles for another conference championship.
Mourn this loss, and then move on. Still so much potential from the guys on this team. And if you are watching the college basketball landscape, everybody is losing outside the Top 5, which should lead to an exciting NCAA Tournament and gives the Cats as good a chance as any. Just need to play better than today.