After hearing about Kentucky’s shooters versus Kentucky’s makers all season, the Cats certainly found themselves falling in the former category, rather than the latter Wednesday night. Throughout the Cats’ 69-66 loss to Utah, UK attempted 21 more field goals and two more three-pointers than their opponent. Still, the Cats’ success rate was considerably lower than the Utes’.
Utah attempted 42 field goals and connected on 23 of them, good for nearly 55 percent. Meanwhile, the Cats threw up 63 attempts but found success on just 26 of them (41 percent). Behind-the-arc, the difference is even more drastic: 8-15 (53 percent) for Utah; 2-17 (11 percent) for Kentucky.
After the game, Ashton Hagans was asked for his opinion on the team’s offensive identity. Does the team know what that identity is or will be?
“Um, I wouldn’t say 100 percent,” Hagans said timidly. “But we’re getting there. A whole bunch of freshmen, so that just takes time. We have to let everyone figure out their role so we can get better.”
Head coach John Calipari didn’t seem to have the answer right now either, especially in terms of how it relates to long-range shooting.
“I don’t have the answer. I wish I did,” Coach Cal said. “I believe we’ve got good shooters. [They’re] just maybe timid right now.”
A slow start certainly couldn’t have helped that timidness – the Cats connected on just four of their first 14 bucket attempts. By the end of the half, Kentucky was 13-of-31 from the field. The team missed each of its first seven three-point attempts, until Kahlil Whitney connected on one two minutes into the second half. Players on this particular Kentucky team, as well as players across the sport, have often said nothing helps their in-game confidence more than draining a few baskets early in the game. One could then assume nothing hurts it more than a 4-of-14 start from the field or an entire first half without a trey.
Still, a slow start wasn’t necessarily new for this team, according to Hagans.
“Last year, we started off slow most of our games. We’ve been in this situation.”
But some things have changed since last year. Of course, the 2018-19 squad also had their struggles with shooting, but players – rather, makers – like Tyler Herro and, surprisingly enough at the time, PJ Washington could often deliver the necessary dagger in big moments. This year’s team doesn’t have that consistent weapon. Still, Hagans says this year’s team is “a lot better right now” than the Cats were this time last season.
“Last year, we had players that could throw the ball into it and get a bucket when we needed it. This year, we have talent all over,” Hagans said. “This bench is loaded; starting five is loaded. We just have to put last year in the past and focus on this year to try to do something.”
That talent “all over” has admittedly been hard to find behind-the-arc so far this season. The Cats have hit just 42 of their attempted 153 three-pointers this year. That’s good for 27.5 percent and No. 346 in the nation. No player on the current roster has made 12 three-pointers throughout the season’s first 10 games; Maxey and Quickley have connected on 11 apiece, while Hagans has a total of seven. Whitney comes next with four.
Against Utah, those four players finished 2-15.
“[Quickley] missed some big shots, and he’s one of our best. Tyrese missed some shots, and he’s one of our best. I missed some shots, so, yeah, it happens to the best of us,” Hagans said after the Cats’ 2-for-16 Wednesday night performance. “Like I said, we’ll get back to practice tomorrow, lock in and just get better.”
Sometimes shooters – and even makers – go cold on certain nights, against certain opponents, or inside certain arenas. The remainder of Kentucky’s season will rely on having some kind of offensive weapon, even when deep shots aren’t falling.