Not sure anyone saw this coming. The Wildcats are off to a very ugly 1-4 with losses to every team that was top-100 caliber to start the season. The result is four consecutive losses with double-digit defeats to Richmond and Georgia Tech while Kansas and Notre Dame were able to win squeakers. UK has a bunch of questions to answer and they didn’t seem to find any answers after the first week of Camp Cal.
Things aren’t set to get any easier with matchups against UCLA and Louisville looming away from home before SEC play begins. UK is not a good offensive basketball team at the moment while the defense has strangely disappeared in unfortunate moments this season. The lackluster effort in the first half against Notre Dame costed the team a chance at getting a much needed win.
Kentucky put up 63 points in 64 possessions scoring 0.98 points per trip. The three-point shooting continues to be a major issue with the team going a combined 5-of-23 from deep and they are shooting just 24.4% as a team for the season which ranks 290th nationally. Meanwhile, Notre Dame with a variety of different defensive looks did a good job of taking away dunks and lay-ups resulting in the Wildcats only getting 14 shots at the rim. That meant another long day on offense.
We’re going to bring it up after every game, but for this team to reach their potential they need No. 3 and No. 5 to produce on the offensive end. The pair of top-10 recruits have to be stars if Kentucky is going to be a good basketball team this season, but their efficiency is just not there yet. Brandon Boston Jr. put up 14 points, but needed 15 shots to get there while Terrence Clarke was better with 14 points in 13 shots, but struggled to create offense for others. The duo shot 4-of-12 from three which isn’t bad, but only attempted two combined free throws. That number has to get better and these two better start making stuff happen on offense or UK’s woes are going to continue.
Olivier Sarr played his best game of the season and kept making plays for Kentucky as they erased a 20-plus point Notre Dame lead in the second half. The transfer big finished with 22 points on 16 shots showing all kinds of touch on mid-range jumpers throughout the game.
He gave UK a consistent option on the offensive end, but the finesse game does not allow him to get to the line. The veteran only had one free throw attempt and this is a team that must figure out ways to get to the charity stripe to get some easy points.
Davion Mintz played 31 minutes and gave the team some solid production despite going 0-of-5 from three-point range. The Creighton transfer led the team with four assists, but his huge turnover in the second half allowed Notre Dame to end a very long scoring drought when everything was going UK’s way. Isaiah Jackson scored just one point while the bench provided just five points in 52 combined minutes. You can’t have that.
Turnovers continue to be a major issue. Even though UK had just 11 giveaways, they led to 22 points for Notre Dame and were a main reason why the Irish got out to such a big lead. We are starting to see an identity form with the offense playing through Sarr and going to Boston and Clarke to attack from the perimeter, but the young guys have just been way too inefficient. You add that in with bad shooting from your role players and it’s equaling bad offensive performances every time this team takes the floor.
Kentucky allowed 64 points in 64 possessions with Notre Dame putting up one point per possession. The Wildcats put the clamps on the Irish in the second half, but that was after they were blistered for 48 points on 1.5 points per possession in the first half. The Irish hit seven threes, got 11 points at the free throw line and were 9-of-12 on dunks and lay-ups in the first 20 minutes.
Nate Laszewski was the most difficult matchup in the game for Kentucky as the face-up big provided the UK defense all kinds of problems. The stretch five scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half when he hit a couple of threes to go with seven points from the free throw line. The Wildcats have struggled to matchup with stretch bigs this season and that remained true on Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena.
Prentiss Hubb is Notre Dame’s best player and he got 18 points, but it took him 17 shots to get there. The Wildcats matched up well guarding Hubb, but it was really the first half that created such a gaping hole. The Irish got six of their three-point makes and 10 of their free throws in the first 20 minutes as they built what would be 33-9 lead with under 10 minutes left in the first half. However, things got much better in the second half.
UK started to apply some ball pressure on the slow Notre Dame team and it resulted in 12 turnovers in 32 possessions in the second half. However, it was not enough to get the job done but they may have found some identity in those last 20 minutes and it’s clear that the effort from the players has not gone away. Olivier Sarr gave Kentucky some really nice moments with three blocks while Brandon Boston Jr. chipped in three steals.
For the first time since the 1980s, Kentucky sits at 1-4 and this team is in a really big hole. It is now hard to envision this squad earning an at-large bid and it is very well conceivable they have three losses on the resume to teams that may not make it into the NCAA Tournament if things don’t go as planned for Richmond in the A-10. There is still a lot to be determined with Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, but preseason expectations and KenPom rankings tells us neither will make the postseason.
It is important to remember that this is still a long season even without the normal non-conference schedule and there is still plenty of ball to be played. However, UK has their work cut out for them and a losing season is very much on the table. With another week off between games, it is back to the drawing board for this team and issues must be figured out. UK found effective offense with Olivier Sarr and a defensive identity in the second half against Notre Dame. Now they must find a way to get their freshmen duo going and to somehow get some scoring production from the bench.
If answers aren’t found this thing is going to get ugly very quickly.