Every team loses at some point.
Ironically, no college basketball team has gone undefeated since Bobby Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers, and no team ever will. The pressures of an undefeated season would’ve been too much for these freshmen and sophomores in a bigger moment (think elite eight or final four), so its great to get out of the way now. It was a tough loss, yes, but this game will be nothing more than a small blemish on the face of a beautiful season. I attribute most of this loss to the sports gods. They were definitely present on Saturday in Bloomington and helped Watford and the Hoosiers escape with a win against a team they had no business beating. Maybe Big Blue Nation needed the loss to humble us, players and coaches included.
The Wildcats will learn from this. They have a week to walk away from basketball, clear their heads, and get ready for a Chattanooga team that will feel the wrath of an angry team full of stars. The presence of the sport gods is a rare occurrence (except in Tim Tebow’s case) and Saturday they indirectly provided the blueprint to beat the Wildcats. Here it is:
–Get Anthony Davis in foul trouble. Coming into this game the Wildcat’s defense led the nation in opponent field goal percentage at 32.6%. Players like Kidd-Gilchrist and Miller do well defending the wing but the length and presence in the paint is the primary reason for the dominance. With Anthony Davis out of the game, the Wildcats were still forcing the Hoosiers inside, but had no one in the paint to alter or block shots. When Davis did come back in the game he had to play tentatively because of foul trouble and wasn’t as effective.
–Make Kentucky beat you at the free throw line. Why can’t John Calipari coached teams shoot free throws when it matters? It’s like a curse of some sort. The Cats were 1-4 from the stripe in the first half and finished at 58.8% from the line compared to a 82% mark by IU. With a discrepancy like this in free throw percentage you will almost always find yourself behind the other team. There were a lot of critical free throws missed down the stretch that would’ve sealed the game.
–Rain the three. In the last two games opponents have shot 19/33 (57.6%) from three point land. UNC entered the game against the Wildcats shooting 41% and IU came in shooting 45%. Although each performance was an offensive enigma for both teams there is little doubt that future teams will try to shoot the trey to counter the talent, length, and athleticism of the Wildcats. The perimeter defense has to improve.
–A big body presence in the middle. Its no coincidence that both the last two games were close and both teams had Zeller’s of their own. Cody and Tyler Zeller will both be in the NBA some day and you can see why. They move really well under the basket and are crafty when it comes to rebounding. Indiana’s 10 of their 14 offensive rebounds came in the second half. With those extra opportunities, as well as the lead, they were able to massage the ball, take better shots, and keep the ball away from Kentucky. Davis, who’s about 200-210 lbs (although he listed at 220) has trouble getting position and rebounds over bigger players. Teams with a big presence in the middle and sharp shooters have the formula to compete against the Cats.
Other thoughts from the game:
–What’s the 411? Well that’s Terrence Jones’ stat line from Saturday’s game. 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist. Jones didn’t give a great performance, but has been the leader of the team the entire season and will continue to be. He cannot show up in March like he did Saturday and expect team success. When Jones isn’t doing great offensively, he has to find other ways to contribute. Everyone will have a bad game from time to time but its Calipari’s responsibility to find other sources of offense. Cal has to be a better in-game adjuster. If that means calling plays every time down the floor when the Cats aren’t fast breaking, then so be it.
–Kyle Wiltjer isn’t ready. Did anyone see Wiltjer pass up two open jumpers on Saturday? Just me? Oh ok. In the Kansas, St. John’s, UNC, and IU games Wiltjer has played an average of 7 minutes. I understand there is a lot of talent on this team and it’s hard to find minutes for him, but when he had the opportunity against Indiana, he passed it up. Wiltjer has the ability to be an offense force, but he’s young, and all basketball players don’t mature at the same rate. He’s a 6-9 forward who can space the floor with pretty good post moves, something this team could use. Calipari has to know he’s not ready, a great explanation of why he is not seeing more playing time.
–When all else fails give the ball to your senior. Darius Miller didn’t have a particularly good start to the game (0-2 from the field, 2 turnovers), but eventually found rhythm and finished 4 of 6 from the field. At one point in the second half only Miller and Teague were scoring.
After this run Miller was pretty much frozen from the offense, except for a late basket to put the Wildcats up 69-68. Miller has carried Kentucky before, and I think his senior leadership is exactly what Kentucky needs when times are tough.
Although there is now a blueprint for teams to compete against the Wildcats hope is not lost for the Cats and panic should not set in for BBN. Despite all that went wrong on Saturday the Cats still had the opportunity to win the game and that speaks volumes about the talent level of this team.