After some avoidance and distractions (thanks, Grayson Allen and UNC!), I’m finally reflecting on last night’s game. With a weeklong break, I see quite a few things the team can focus on in Camp Cal before they make the trip to Oxford, Mississippi to open conference play. In the spirit of the season, here are seven New Year’s Resolutions for UK Basketball in 2017.
1. Better shot selection
Our guards are terrific — last night, Jay Bilas called the duo of De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk the best backcourt he’s ever seen — but why do they take such horrible shots? I get that Malik Monk’s gonna shoot no matter what, but instead of going for the deep three with the defender’s hand right in your face, why not keep ’em honest and drive to draw the foul? Same thing for Fox, whose shot selection has to be the most infuriating of them all. Speaking of Fox…
2. De’Aaron Fox recapturing his defensive mojo
When Fox came to Kentucky, he was hyped mostly for his speed and defensive skills, but lately, where have those skills gone? Last night, Quentin Snider scored 22 on Fox, which I doubt any of us predicted, in large part because Fox wasn’t up in his grill enough. Fox needs to get back to fundamentals and remind us why people hyped him as the best defensive guard of the Calipari era coming in.
3. Get the ball to Bam more often
Minus his free throw shooting (more on that in a minute), Bam played pretty well last night, finishing on the inside and making all but one field goal. Louisville did a good job clogging up passing lanes last night, but the guards must get the ball to Bam first before scrambling to make something happen on the outside. If need be, get it to Bam down low and he’ll pass it back out. Bam’s still on the Kenny Payne big man track, but in the second half last night, Kentucky was its best when Bam was getting the ball, so let’s do that more often.
4. Hit your free throws, they free!
I know, I know, requisite grumbling about free throws. Last night, Kentucky hit only 50% of its free throws in the second half. Against top ten teams, that ain’t good enough. In the past five games, Kentucky’s hitting 63.8% of its free throws, a mark which I hope improves as we get closer to March.
5. Find a solution at the four spot
I actually thought Wenyen Gabriel played well last night, grabbing seven boards and blocking two shots in 12 minutes, but it’s clear he’s still a work in progress, which leaves a gaping hole in Kentucky’s lineup at the four spot. Derek Willis is doing better on the boards, finishing with nine last night, but he’s been cold, and without his shooting, is he any better than Gabriel there? It will be interesting to see whether Cal sticks with the Gabriel/Willis combo or resorts to Mychal Mulder at the four spot coming out of Camp Cal; although Mulder has played well, I think Cal still prefers the former not the latter.
6. Never use that lineup again
At some point in the first half last night, Calipari experimented with a lineup of Isaiah Briscoe, Dominique Hawkins, Mychal Mulder, Derek Willis, and Isaac Humphries. After a quick Mulder three, Louisville went on a 7-0 run to take the lead. Kentucky didn’t lose just because of that swing, but it clearly disrupted momentum. I’m all for experimenting, but let’s do it with at least one of the big three (Fox, Monk, Bam) on the floor, please.
7. Anything from Sacha Killeya-Jones or Isaac Humphries
Both are talented and have potential, especially SKJ, but so far, we haven’t seen much (or in Humphries’ case, maybe too much). Even a minor improvement from either one would help Kentucky immensely, giving the Cats another option at the post position. With the SEC down, hopefully SKJ and Humphries can get more minutes to build their confidence.