I’ve been around this site for a while. I’ve written several post game summaries. I have never had to do one while my hands were shaking from anger/disappointment/bewilderment, but I can now cross that off my list. This was a game that Kentucky did not necessarily deserve to win, if ‘deserve’ means that they were the better overall team on the day. But, deserve or not, Kentucky had the game won…right up until they didn’t. They seemed to have overcome an absolutely terrible first half performance, a no-show by Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis’ first bout with foul trouble and the raucous environment in Bloomington to battle back and pull out a tough win on the road. Instead, they had a lapse in free throw shooting, and then concentration, at the worst possible time, giving Christian Watford the chance to sink his heart-breaking three at the horn to upset the Cats. His shot simultaneously put the first loss on the UK’s record and put Indiana back on the college basketball map. I hate him.
Onto the notes…
–First things first, you have to give credit to the Hoosiers. They played hard, they withstood every Kentucky run, and they earned the win. Yes, they got several bounces (and calls) to go their way, but when you’re the aggressor those things seem to happen. Indiana never doubted that they could win the game and, save for a couple of minutes in the second half when their offense reverted to going 1-on-1, they never strayed from their gameplan to take it straight at Kentucky and it worked all day long. Kentucky could’ve, and probably should’ve, won the game, but this was simply Indiana’s day. They deserve all the credit they can get.
–Now onto the last play. Yes, Kentucky should have fouled. They had two fouls to give and Cal said after the game that the plan was to foul and leave IU with only a couple of ticks to inbound and try and make a shot. Marquis Teague tried to foul in the backcourt and UK missed another opportunity to give one up as Indiana drove into the lane before the kickout. Watford hit a big shot, but it was one he never would have had the opportunity to take if the Cats had executed the way they should have. It’s a mistake that most will chalk up to being a young team, but when you blow a play that is as simple as just hacking someone before they can nail a dagger to win a game, it’s really just a lack of focus and execution. However, the lesson is likely learned and if there is a next time for a situation like this I expect the Cats to get it right.
–I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about free throws down the stretch. We all saw it. You have to hit the free throws, especially Doron Lamb. He’s the person everyone wants at the line in that situation, and he will continue to be even though he missed a huge one. But, part of winning close games (especially on the road and in March) is hitting your free throws. Kentucky has to do better if they’re going to reach the heights they’re capable of.
–Aside from the failures in the last 30 seconds, the major negative to take away from the game was the performance (or lack thereof) of Terrence Jones. Cal said after the game that Jones gave the Cats ‘zero’, and they essentially played crunch time without him in the game. He registered a completely unacceptable and mind-boggling line of 4 points, 1 rebound and 6 turnovers in 28 minutes on the day. Four points. One rebound. Six turnovers. That’s exactly two more points and two less rebounds than Eloy Vargas. Eloy Vargas was not a preseason All-American, and Jones certainly didn’t play like one today. If he had made any kind of positive impact on the game, Kentucky wins. Instead, he was a complete no show in a game where the veterans should have been the steadying force that saw the team through in a tough environment. Doron Lamb, and eventually Darius Miller, performed those roles like they should have, while Jones played poorly enough to warrant riding the pine down the stretch. He’s too good of a player to put up a performance like this in a big game, and I expect him to bounce back. For today, though, Jones was the Cats’ biggest disappointment.
–One guy who looked like he was poised to join Jones in the doghouse, at least in the first half, was Marquis Teague. In the first 20 minutes he turned the ball over, missed easy layups and played generally out of control. He even started the second half on the bench, but when he came back in the game he looked like a completely different player. Teague scored every one of his 15 points after the half and looked more like the player that we expected than he has all season. That second-half performance alone would be enough to get excited about, but to do it in a game where he was under immense pressure in front of a home-state crowd that was very hostile toward him showed a lot of guts. It was a loss for the Cats, but I feel like Teague grew up in the second half and it was a performance he can build on.
–The best player on the floor today for the Cats, by far, was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He was locked in and aggressive from the start, and ended up with 18 points and 9 boards on 9-12 shooting. He got it done on both ends, cleaned up the glass in Jones’ absence and carried the Cats through the first 20 minutes while every one else except Lamb basically looked like a deer in headlights. There’s no doubt that he is the motor of the team and he was the only player to give a consistent performance over the whole game. Even in a loss, he was a joy to watch.
–We’ll hit on a few points for some of the other guys:
—>Doron Lamb also played well for the most part, and although his 5-14 field goal shooting performance wasn’t sparkling, he was one of the few guys who was aggressive and looking to score, leading the team with 19 points. The free throw he missed at the end is what people will remember, and rightfully so, but it shouldn’t be lost on folks that he was one of the few that came to play from the start.
—>Darius Miller’s day was a story of two halves. In the first, he was a non-factor and looked like vintage Disappearius. In the second, he carried the Cats for a stretch. He answered Indiana’s shots and kept Kentucky in the game as the Hoosiers were trying to make a decisive second-half run. People are conditioned to be disappointed in Miller, but today he overcame a tough first half and played like a senior after the break, which was what the team needed.
—>Anthony Davis had the toughest game of his young career. Indiana clearly wanted to go straight at him to get him in foul trouble, and they were extremely successful in doing so, albeit with at least one questionable call helping along the way. Davis has to do a better job of staying straight up on people or teams will continue to try and get him off the floor with fouls. When he’s on the bench the team is completely different and it showed today. It was a difficult game for him, especially considering the missed free throw at the end, but Davis is still developing and will learn from this one. He’s still a beast.
—>WLOY!! The basket Eloy got was huge and he played as well as we’ve seen him play thus far.
And finally, some quick hitters:
-If I had to hear Dick Vitale talk about getting the ball to Cody Zeller one more time, my head was going to explode. We get it, Dickie V. You don’t have to tell us every single time down the floor.
-Indiana shot 9-15 from outside, including hitting their first six, and 7-9 overall, after halftime. In the last two games, Kentucky has given up 20-33 (60.6%) from three-point land. That has to get fixed.
-Yes, Mr. Oladipo. That was a nice dunk.
-The officiating in the first half was awful. That is all.
That’s just about it. It’s a regular season loss that hurts as bad as any in recent memory, but there are some positives to take away. The fight the Cats showed in the second half, while not matched by their execution in the final minute, was encouraging. I love the toughness they demonstrated and if there’s one major silver lining from the loss it’s that this team has shown it’s not easy to put away. Unfortunately for the Cats, on this Saturday, unlike the last, they ended up on the wrong end of a 73-72 score in a game that came down to the final ticks. All we can hope for is that the team will learn and grow from this moving forward. For now, though, it’s time to pick up and move on until the Cats lace ’em up against poor, poor, UT-Chattanooga one week from today. That’s all for now. See you tomorrow.