Pretty much everything that could go wrong, went wrong last night in L.A., but none of the problems were more obvious than what was happening in the post. Heading into the game, many expected Tony Parker to cause problems, but Thomas Welsh? THIS guy had 21 points and 11 boards?
UCLA beat up the Cats in the post. Their post players played wide, they played physical and they played like mature college athletes. Kentucky did just the opposite. Alex Poythress was physical, but still has to find his touch around the rim. The young Humphries and Labissiere looked like lost puppies trying to find a home. They were beat down from start to finish.
Skal is still adjusting to the physicality of the game. It’s going to take time, but it’s correctable. “He’s got no options,” Calipari said. “(You) Have to get lower and have to use leverage. You can’t try to use your arms and hands. When they come at you and you go down, it’s a foul now. You can’t do it.”
Skal was virtually non-existent in the box score — 6 points, 2 blocks, 4 fouls and only 1 rebound in 16 minutes. The rebounding stat that hurts the most — tiny Tyler Ulis is averaging 3.6 rebounds per game and 7-foot Skal is hardly better with 3.9 a game.
Calipari told Skal after the game that he has to learn how to fight. UCLA was hitting shots and the Cats weren’t getting all of the calls, but you must keep attacking. “One of the things I told him is that things don’t always go right.” Calipari said you can’t let it slow you down, “(You) Just have to, ‘Kid, you have to fight. You have to battle.’”
Tyler Ulis knows his teammate will get eventually get there. “Skal, he’s going to come around. He’s a great player, a great kid, great skill. But once he starts fighting for us we’re going to be hard to beat.”
What became most self-evident during last night’s game was the lack of depth in the post. After having an entire team of 7-foot post players last year, the team struggled without Marcus Lee. Without Lee, the bench wasn’t a threat for Skal or Poythress when they were playing poorly. They sat when foul trouble forced them to. Prince Ali told Poythress to sit down for good with 10 minutes left in the game.
Playing without Marcus Lee is no excuse, but consider this — 17-year old Isaac Humphries’ 27 minutes of playing time were 10 more than any other post-player. “Marcus Lee getting hurt, now I’m playing guys I haven’t played that much. But that’s no excuse. Their bigs outplayed us and out-hustled us, outworked us,” Calipari said.
Their lack of production showed up in the box score. Lee, Poythress, Skal and Humphries combined for 16 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks. To be frank, they got their ass kicked.
To be fair to all of these guys, there’s nothing more difficult in the game of basketball then learning how to take contact and finish. It takes time. The Harrisons didn’t learn it until their sophomore season. Skinny Skal is still figuring out how he has to position his body in order to get leverage against much larger opponents. Alex Poythress is physical enough, but he’s trying to feel out his touch while getting more comfortable on a bum knee. Only time and a little hard work can help Isaac Humphries mature into his body.
It may take some time, but if they can correct the little things and play with some mental toughness, the rest will take care of itself.
“You have to play with joy. You have to have fun playing. You can’t do that if the other team is punching you in the face and you’re not swinging back,” Calipari said. “You’ll never play with joy.”