They say a win is a win, but after watching an abysmal LSU team cut Kentucky’s 25-point lead to six with fourteen seconds left, is it really? Johnny Jones’ Tigers seemed like the perfect medicine for the Cats to get back on track after losing three of their last four, and although Kentucky eventually won 92-85, I might feel even worse than I did on Saturday, and that’s saying something.
John Calipari buoyed hopes this week with talks of a “reboot,” but the only player that looked reenergized and ready to roll was Wenyen Gabriel, who scored a career-high 23 points along with 8 rebounds. At times, Wenyen looked like the only player not moving in slow motion for Kentucky, and every single one of his teammates owes him a huge hug, because without him, the Big Blue sky might be falling right about now.
Let’s go over it, because what the hell has happened to this team?
Thank goodness for Wenyen Gabriel
After scoring fourteen points over the last four games combined, Wenyen had 16 in the first half, including 11 of Kentucky’s first 16. He was everywhere, hustling for rebounds and loose balls and playing with more passion than we’ve seen from the entire team in weeks. Wenyen wasn’t perfect — he let LSU get three easy threes late in the game to stay in it — but on a night with more lowlights than highlights, he was definitely the star.
“It wasn’t Wenyen,” Calipari said of the reboot. “What happened was Isaiah Briscoe created 12 shots and had three hockey assists at halftime. He created three shots. Now, he only had three assists because a bunch of guys missed shots. But he created 12. We’re looking for him to create 18, 20 shots a game. That’s what we want from him. And he started now. After he did that, those last eight minutes, he didn’t do any of it. He stopped doing it.”
“One of the main things he told Isaiah Briscoe was to create players for others,” Wenyen said of Cal’s reboot. “He got me going early with some open shots and I started going on from there.”
The last eight minutes were horrible
Kentucky was up by 25 with 6:46 left in the game, which, admit it, is when you tuned out a little. Well, so did the team. The Cats slipped back to their lackadaisical ways, allowing LSU to make it a two-possession game with fourteen seconds left; if you’ve been looking for a microcosm of Kentucky’s regression this season, that shift was it. What happened?
“Maybe both, focus, fatigue. Not getting back, not talking, there’s a lot of stuff going on,” Cal said. “The major thing I wanted to get out of this game and that practice, we got until the last eight minutes, then they got tired and reverted back to, ‘I’m going to pass then when I’ve exhausted every opportunity to shoot this ball, then I’ll give it to you.'”
Calipari was so frustrated by his team’s collapse that he said if NCAA rules allowed him to make his team practice after games, he would.
“If I could practice tonight, we would have gone three hours. I would have had them meet me at the gym at 10 p.m. and I would have gone three hours until 1 a.m. until people were puking. That’s what I would have done. That’s the old days, I can’t do that. But we will practice three hours tomorrow. I told them, ‘If anyone says they can’t go, they won’t make the trip to Alabama, so don’t go or you’ll go.’ And we’ll continue to get after this and continue to build what you saw for three quarters of the game.”
He went one step further on his radio show.
“If I could, I would tell them, ‘Don’t shower, don’t smile, put your little panties on, we’re going to practice.'”
You know it’s serious when Calipari uses the word “panties.”
Cal was happy with the first 32 minutes of the game
We’re all frustrated with the last eight minutes, as was Calipari, but he was careful to point out the progress he feels his group made in the first three quarters of the game. For that reason, he’s confident they’re back on the right path.
“I know now and I feel comfortable we’re on the right path. Disappointed in the last eight minutes,” Cal said. “Today the ball moved. It was crisp. It went to the extra pass. Guys found each other. It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to play that way.”
“Yesterday’s practice was one of our best as the season. Not energy wise, what we looked like as a team. Now, we have to continue on that path and shore up the problems we’re having defensively.”
About that defense…
How do you let LSU score 85 points?
Coming in, we all knew Kentucky had issues on defense; however, letting a horrible LSU team that averages 74 points a game put up 85 in Rupp is inexcusable. The Tigers shot 62.5% in the second half, including a ridiculous 72.7% (8-11) from three. Antonio Blakeney had 31 points, more than Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox combined. In the second half, LSU scored 58 points, just the latest in a discouraging defensive slide; in the last four games, Kentucky is giving up an average of 54 second half points. Woof.
“Some of those problems are our personnel,” Cal said of his defense’s woes. “They’ve either got to step on the gas or step back. I’m not being mean, I’m just being real. It’s that time. Either you step on the gas and get this right or you’ve got to step back.”
“I had a couple of guys look scared to death out there,” Cal added later on his radio show.
This series showcased everything that’s wrong with Kentucky right now:
Remember, that’s LSU.
Monk’s lack of rebounding might put him on the bench
Malik Monk had 23 points tonight, a welcome uptick from his 11 vs. Florida, but like in Gainesville, he had zero rebounds. This team goes as Malik does, but if he continues to shy away from the boards, Calipari’s not afraid to bench him.
“Well, again, he’s probably got to play less minutes if he’s not going to rebound the ball. You’re going to have to be in there less. It’s not hard in the equation. There were two or three opportunities, again, and I took him out. You didn’t get the ball, you’re out. It’s just making an effort to make them go get balls.”
Meanwhile, Alabama played four overtimes vs. South Carolina
As Kentucky fell apart, a classic was going down in Columbia, where Alabama beat South Carolina in a four-overtime thriller. If only today were Thursday and not Tuesday, the Tide’s fatigue might make a difference in Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa, but still, it’s another reminder that Kentucky can’t afford to play like they did the last eight minutes if they want to win on the road vs. a decent team.