Last night, I wrote that if Kentucky lost to Ohio State, it might be time to worry. Well, Kentucky lost to Ohio State 74-67 this afternoon, and yes, it was worrisome. The Cats looked totally out of sync, couldn’t defend, and needed a career performance from Jamal Murray to stay in the game in the second half. In a familiar script, Ohio State — unranked and now 6-5 (ouch) — couldn’t miss and the Buckeyes took home their first win over a Top 150 opponent this season (ouch).
Before we delve into the bad stuff, let’s start with Murray, because he was stellar.
Jamal Murray put the team on his back
Before today (hell, before the second half), I think all of us were wondering when the real Jamal Murray would show up. With the Cats down 12 at halftime, Jamal Murray came out of the locker room a different person, scoring 27 points in the second half on his way to a career-high 33 points. How good was he? Murray was 7-8 from behind the three-point line in the second half and 10-13 from the floor. He played every single minute. At one point, Thad Matta turned to his bench and asked “Is there anybody that can guard him right now?”
No, they couldn’t. Murray’s 33 points are the most by a Kentucky player in the Calipari era since Brandon Knight’s 33 vs. West Virginia in 2011. (The record still belongs to Terrence Jones, who put up 35 vs Auburn in 2011.) Cal was happy with Murray’s second half, but wished he had seen that kind of performance before it was too late.
“The way he started the game, I had to take him out twice because you’re not being aggressive. You’re just coming down and dribbling and throwing it,” Cal said. “Now in the second half, he got going, where we’re down. We need to play winning basketball where we’re up, taking good shots, taking care of the ball, you pick up fumbles. …He’s got a lot to learn, but he’s really talented. He can do some stuff with that ball. We’ve just got to get him playing right.”
Unfortunately, Murray’s heroics weren’t enough.
The rest of the team?
Let’s start with the first half, because it was by far the worst. Kentucky was 30.6% from the floor, 16.7% from the 3-point line, and committed seven turnovers. If you’re doing that, it’s impossible to win unless you’re playing a team of actual cats. Kentucky had no sync on offense or defense, reverting to the ole 2013 “Let’s send Archie to the rim” plan, instead of Archie Goodwin, it was Isaiah Briscoe. Don’t take that as a knock at Isaiah or Archie though; in the first half, the Cats were floundering, and Briscoe was the only player willing to drive the lane.
Before we get too wrapped up in the comparisons, I think this team is better than the 2013 team, but man, they sure looked like them in the first half.
Ohio State couldn’t miss
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Just when Kentucky was feeling good about themselves, they met an okay team (remember, Ohio State didn’t have a win over a top 150 team before tonight) and that okay team just couldn’t miss. Coming in to tonight, Ohio State was only making 34% from the three-point line. Tonight, they hit 50%, almost 60% in the first half. Hell, JaQuan Lyle hit a three at the buzzer at the end of the first half.
As Calipari will tell you ad nauseam, when you’re Kentucky, you get everybody’s best shot. Davids get juiced up on taking down Goliath and it happens. It happened to Duke earlier today. Not so fun fact: today was the first time Duke and Kentucky have lost to unranked opponents on the same day when ranked in the top ten. Ouch!
Skal looked slightly better?
Skal’s problems in the past few weeks are well documented, and early on tonight, I thought he looked good, hitting his hook shot and actually showing some aggression during a tie-up with an Ohio State defender over a rebound; however, when the going got rough, Skal got taken out.
“I thought Skal was better today, but when the game got a little rough in the end, I just didn’t want him to — I just went with Alex and Marcus Lee,” Cal said. “But I thought he made strides today. He’s been pretty good in practice, and he’s making strides now.”
Skal finished with two points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. You can tell he’s trying, but at times, he just looks so lost. Baby steps.
Even Tyler Ulis made mistakes
Look, I love Tyler Ulis. Not only am I honored to share my name with him, I’ll probably name all of my hypothetical children Tyler because of him. He’s awesome, which is why it was so bizarre to see him make some dumb decisions today. Ulis had an ill-advised pass under the basket that got swiped away, a hasty forced three when he had plenty of time to draw up a play, and an intentional foul that gave Ohio State two free throws and the ball. Looking back, that may have been the game changer.
But, even after one bad game, there’s no one I’d rather have as my point guard.
Is this what it’s like to be normal?
After last season’s dream ride, the crash to Earth was inevitable. The Wisconsin loss was certainly jarring, but the Duke win early this season kept the good times rolling. When UK lost to UCLA in Pauley, we pointed to Marcus Lee being out, Tyler Ulis not being 100%, and UCLA feeling it on their home floor. There are no excuses for today’s loss. It was bad. We’re back on Earth now.
“I would say that I know this: We’re not as good as we were a year ago. It’s pretty obvious. I still think we have a good enough team to do some good things. Just you must play to win. You must play to win,” Cal repeated. “I wish we were farther along than we are.”
Me too, but we aren’t. And that’s okay, because it’s December, not March. We’re not accustomed to it, but this is what it’s like to be normal.
The Louisville game looms
Can the Cats get their crap together before then? They better.