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RECAP: What Went Wrong In UK’s Loss To Ohio State

Kentucky dropped its second straight game in Las Vegas, this time to one-loss, fifth-ranked Ohio State. Coach Cal called Ohio State the best team in the country prior to the game, although his reasoning — three-point shooting and big man Kaleb Wesson  — aren’t the reasons Kentucky lost to the Buckeyes in the CBS Sports Classic. Ohio State hit only six three-pointers and Wesson was held beneath his per-game averages in both scoring and rebounding. Can’t complain about that. Kentucky lost because a number of reasons, including but not limited to…


1. This team can’t shoot.

Coach Cal’s preseason hype of this team’s shooting potential (which he still believes in) is almost comical now because it was another horrible shooting effort by the Wildcats, Nate Sestina not included. Sestina hit five three-pointers in his first complete game back since injuring his wrist in practice before Thanksgiving. He was great for Kentucky. As for everyone else, the outside shooting was horrible, yet they continue to take them at a rate that’s painful to watch at home.

The non-Sestina bunch went 2-for-15 from outside with Maxey and Quickley making the only two, but missing most of the misses:

Tyrese Maxey: 1-6
Immanuel Quickley: 1-5
Ashton Hagans: 0-2
Johnny Juzang: 0-1
Kahlil Whitney: 0-1

I’ll be honest — I could go the rest of my life without seeing Kahlil Whitney jack up another three-pointer on a crucial possession, and I’ll be just happy. He did it again in this one on an important possession in the second half, Kentucky down five and clawing back. I believe the ball landed somewhere at the bottom of the Hoover Dam, and Ohio State got two the other way to extend it back out to seven.

In related news, Johnny Juzang is still cold.

Can we delete the three-point line?

2. Free throw shooting, also not good.

Kentucky’s strength all year has been its accuracy and consistency at the foul line, where the Cats score 24.1% of their total points while shooting 79.5%, the 14th-best percentage in the nation. But against Ohio State, Kentucky didn’t get many trips to the line and didn’t shoot well when they were there, missing five of 13 against the Buckeyes. Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey each went 4-of-6, while Kahlil Whitney took the team’s only other free throw and missed it. It’s a little sad that no one else had an attempt.

On the other side, Ohio State went 21-for-27, and Calipari was surprised his team got doubled up in free throw tries. “Unusual for us for a team to shoot more free throws than us,” he said. “This is an aggressive team, they were physical.”

3. The offense is, well, it’s bad right now.

In Coach Cal’s postgame comments he revealed UK’s game plan to drive and kick when Ohio State collapsed. The problem the Cats ran into, in Cal’s own words: “we just wouldn’t pass the ball.”

“When they did collapse, we tried to shoot it anyway,” he said. “I called my last timeout to make us pass that ball, where EJ threw it up. I called a timeout to say ‘you’re going to pass this ball’ because we came down three straight times with guys wide open and shot it into a guy that’s 6-10.”

Before the final four or five minutes, Cal thought the passing was better and he even pointed out they probably finish with 20 assists to 11 turnovers if they just share the ball down the stretch. Those would’ve been good numbers, but the team forgot how to share toward the end of the comeback attempt.

That was Cal’s explanation of what went wrong offensively. To me — and I’m an overreacting fan, not a basketball coach — I don’t think UK has an offense whatsoever right now, in part because…

4. No go-to scorer.

Say UK is down one, ball in hand, late in a big game. Who do you trust to get you two points? You giving it to Maxey so he can lower his head and bulldoze over everyone in the lane so the fate of the possession is in the officials’ hands? We’ve seen that too many times this week. I vote against the Maxey block/charge attack. So is it the Quickley running hook we saw against Ohio State? His floater is pretty money when the opportunity presents itself, but that’s not your go-to shot when you must get a basket. Hagans attacking? You want that? I know you’re not throwing it inside to Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery. Point being, this team doesn’t have a PJ Washington or a Reid Travis or even a Tyler Herro of a year ago who can take the ball and go get you points. I honestly don’t know who on this team I’d give it to for a must-have score. It’s a problem.

5. Nick Richards offered nothing. EJ Montgomery was a little better but still not good enough.

Richards, the biggest dude on the floor, got ZERO rebounds. He took one shot (it went in!) and his only other contribution to the game was foul trouble, which limited him to only 12 minutes played. This game was a big film game for NBA scouts and Richards completely no-showed in his chance to make himself some money. In two games in Las Vegas he combined for seven points, four rebounds and eight fouls. It’s not a coincidence UK lost both games.

EJ Montgomery, on the other hand, had four points and five boards against Ohio State. Decent game, but still not a box score he’ll put on the refrigerator.

UK’s two bigs have to be better. There is no one else.

BONUS: Silver lining!

Ohio State is really good and Kentucky — a team that is not really good, yet — played them tight on a big stage. The Buckeyes led most of the game (33 minutes, 23 seconds to be exact) but Kentucky was never completely out of it, despite all the things we discussed above. If you’re looking to stay positive going into Christmas, just remind yourself Camp Cal is around the corner, Ashton Hagans continues to be great and Nate Sestina might be Steph Curry in a Patriot League power forward’s body.

Go Cats.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

29 Comments for RECAP: What Went Wrong In UK’s Loss To Ohio State

  1. VirginiaCat
    9:52 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    I was proud of the effort. These young men played hard and they are not to be blamed for the loss. Had Cal landed a couple of quality big men, it would have been a different story. Also, lay off Richards. He is clearly limited, but that’s not his fault. Cal put this team together. Enough said.

    • SanDiegoDave
      10:57 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

      UK has big men but they’re standing 25 feet away from the basket with the ball. Sestina is the only big man who is an outside threat. Washington and Richards touched the ball once in the lane and got stripped by a guard.

    • Miller45
      7:57 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

      Literally stood solitary against a zone and heaving up a prayer

  2. dbake
    9:53 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    No, we sure don’t have a go to scorer. Nick Richards is still, well, Nick Richards. All the hype about his improvement should be put to rest after these two games in Vegas. Against talent, he does not show up. His entire stat line before these games was built on at best mediocre talent. I hate it, but it’s true. Gonna be a long SEC season. Don’t want to even talk about Louisville.

    • BTownUKFan
      10:02 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

      A couple of things that give me hope. 1) From everything I’ve heard UL’s PG is not very good. Having to try and run their offense with Hagans and Maxey guarding him should disrupt their flow. 2) The SEC sucks this year based on year to date results. I think this is going to be one of the more roller coaster seasons we’ve seen in a while, across all leagues. I don’t know that anyone other in the power 5 leagues is going to dominate.

    • DelrayCat
      12:02 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

      The SEC doesn’t suck any worse than we do. Just watch some of their games. They are all inconsistent like us. But there are some talented, and beefy, teams out there that will give the cats fits…especially on the road. I think 12-6 will win the conference.

    • Miller45
      7:59 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

      Ihe inter-conference challenge down the road is going to show a lot

  3. makeitstop
    10:21 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    Drew, ur article captures how most of us feel. Kahlil, don’t try to shoot us out of a hole, it gets deeper. And, Maxey’s shooting reminded me of Norm Stewart commenting on his star Derrick Chievous: “his philology was shoot, shoot, shoot and continue shooting until both arms are severed from ur body, regardless of how many people are open.”

  4. bosch8184
    10:32 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    The players are over hyped and over ranked or Calipari is massively struggling to coach them. Pick one, we have 5 years of evidence one of them has to be true.

    Won’t hear that on Kalipari Sports Radio though. Matt is such a coward, logging off soon as he knows he will be rightfully challenged or his constant carrying water for Cal.

    Regular season used to be fun and entertaining, now it is a constant struggle with inexperienced talent and horrible basketball played in far flung neutral site games while the home schedule is crap. That is, unquestionably 100% Calipari’s fault.

    Over it.

    • WatchutalkinboutWillis
      8:31 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

      I don’t agree with all you said but I do agree that the regular season needs to be more entertaining with wins and a better home schedule.

  5. SanDiegoDave
    10:54 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    Not once did Kentucky’s big men post up on the block and demand the ball. NOT ONCE!!! Look at the tape and call me a liar. Atrocious.

    • jim tom
      7:18 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

      Facts right there. Just horrible basketball to watch

  6. CrystalBall
    10:58 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    No inside game, and Maxey shoots too many from way too deep.

  7. JT55
    11:15 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    Can we get OSU’s coach? He is an absolutely great coach.

    • ukbradstith
      12:07 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

      I agree. But would you have been happy 2 years ago when a good Ohio St team flamed out in the second round? Or last year when he went 20-15, 8-12 in the big ten? Or the fact that he’s been to one sweet sixteen in his entire career?

  8. kuhlkat
    11:24 pm December 21, 2019 Permalink

    Maxey sux driving to the basket and sux from 25 feet. He is great in the areas between the two.

  9. dave1964
    8:25 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

    Cal needs coaching lessons needs to recruit fighters not weak minded no talent.

  10. dan1965
    8:52 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

    Descent game, 4 points,and 5 rebounds ! You’ve got to be kidding, right ? !!
    I didn’t even know EJ was in the game until he finally got a dunk. And Nick, I definitely knew he was , because every time I looked up he was being called for a foul!!!
    Say I’m being to harsh if you want, I love the Cats,but truth is truth,Nicks a junior, his hands I thought had improved,but now they look awful again,and other than a dunk here and there,He’s not aggressive. Get the ball,make a move or two,fight to get position,fight for a board,put your ass on a guy and box out already ! No rebounds ,your kidding me !
    And EJ almost leaving for the NBA,really ?! Well he should have went,because his stock has fallen,a ton, and he better work on his shot some more,and get some more fight as well.
    And Tyrese, please stop shooting 5 feet beyond the 3 point line, and be smarter on drives, your allowed to stop and pull up for a 7 filter instead of building a guy and getting called for a charge.
    With all that said, we still played Ohio St. tough,and still have a lot of room to grow and get better,and if a couple of these guys can finally get there shot to start falling,and EJ can figure it out,there’s still a chance for a deep run. If not,there’s a chance of a 2nd round exit to….

    • DelrayCat
      12:14 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

      Good points. Only 2 guys on this roster have a sure-fire NBA future, Hagans and Maxey. With EJ and Nick, their size helps, but you’ve got to be able to play. And Cal’s offense is predicated on their involvement on offense so they are being rapidly exposed. Their limitations will also extend to the NBA. Neither have any shot at ever being a legit NBA player imo, but both will probably make a nice living somewhere overseas similar to an Eloy Vargas. It will be interesting to see if one or both stay another year. As for Whitney and Brooks…maybe if they work really hard over the next 4-5 years in the D-league they may also eek something out. I’d compare both to a Wenyen Gabriel. It is not a great comparison because Wenyen can actually shoot. But we may only see flashes of talent before they are gone. Let’s face it. This is just not a very talented team compared to years past.

  11. UKfanman01
    9:08 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

    For a team that has 0 identity and no go to guy they looked pretty good. Some mistakes were made but theyll rebound fine

  12. makeitstop
    9:18 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

    I understand people being frustrated at the execution but attacking Cal isn’t the rational response for reasons that have been stated over and over here, including the unparalleled record in the past decade. However, it’s true players are underperforming – Nick and EJ most obviously; and making the same mistakes in execution and judgment (driving into a packed lane) and mechanics – Maxey’s long jump shot for example, is horrendous. What’s the best team we saw? 2014/15. That’s John Robin’s last year as assistant coach. After that, he’s been special assistant. Since then Justus – who game planned us through the 2014 tourney – took over. I’m not a basketball expert but I do advise companies on management structure and executive teams. That’s the kind of data that seems relevant to me. Time to rearrange the responsibilities bf we dig a hole we can’t get out of. Like most problems this is a people problem. Fix the people (or replace them) and fix the problem.

  13. EdC
    10:19 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

    The thing I don’t really ever see anybody point out is that this UK team virtually never has big men in position to rebound. It appears that they are coached to always stretch the floor on offense, resulting in always having to crash the boards instead of the approach that pretty much every good rebounding team takes. Get good position.

    Great, Sestina shot well from 3 but on the 16 3 point misses it was almost comical watching UK bigs crashing the boards and trying not to foul in the process.

    Related to this are there actually any discernible offensive plays other that be spaced and let somebody improvise? To my eyes it looks like 80% street ball using “dribble drive” as an excuse for not having any plays. This incarnation of dribble drive usually also results in kick outs more than it does lobs to bigs or inside passes of any kind for a mid range jumper. Ohio State basically just had to stay in their zone and not collapse too much when someone got inside it.

  14. classof68
    11:32 am December 22, 2019 Permalink

    I commend Drew for having the gonads to tell it like it is. But I would like him to go further and start a conversation on why Cal doesn’t recruit as well as he used to. The topic came up a couple years ago and at that time some people were calling for Cal to get at least one more recruiter – someone kids knew and looked up to like Jalen Rose. But that talk died down, even as our recruiting continued to slide. Are Justus and Barbee good recruiters? I have no idea, but I doubt recruits know much about them. Are they evaluating recruits correctly or are they just going after the highest ranked players that seem interested in UK? Is Cal himself really putting in the effort he used to? Next years commits seem to be pretty good on paper, but again we still don’t have a good big man yet. A bunch of skinny 6′-7″ dudes just like this year’s team. The star point guard is really just a HS junior who is skipping his senior year. It just seems like anymore Cal struggles at the last minute to get recruits. I’ll wager next years group can’t shoot a lick either.

  15. DelrayCat
    12:18 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

    The Cal system is a catch-22. We get most of these player for 1 or 2 twos, so we see a LOT of players come through the program. It is evident just how many guys are misses coming out of high school as an All American. Many want to see a more traditional program whereby players are developed over 3-4 years, but what if they all suck and never develop? At least with this one-and-done approach the cupboard is only bare for a year until a new batch arrives and all the sucky ones are pushed out.

  16. u my boy Blue
    2:17 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

    Lot’s of very true points. I get if players are struggling but some glaring basic fundamentals don’t seem to be getting corrected from game to game. ie. Maxey shooting from 7′ behind the arc with no one in the vicinity and not squared up. Usually you learn by middle school to step forward to the line before shooting if you have room and no defender. Why take it from that deep if they’re giving you the normal 3pt line? Is he trying to prove something? I mean half court is always open if that’s the case, why even cross half court? Reminds me of Archie Goodwin… erratic shot, unnecessary extra distance and lack of body control on drives. Haggins and Sestina are def. our leaders.

  17. u my boy Blue
    2:21 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

    By the way, if you’re not happy w our bigs, be nervous for next yr. The one big we recruited looks slow footed, clumsy and a project. Its nice to have guards but this yr proves the importance of solid bigs.

  18. blueballs80
    2:31 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

    I think we can all agree when the competition is tough, we may not get much out of Nick or EJ. Not living up to the 5 star billing. We truly do not have bigs we can go to when the game is on the line. This is why Reid and PJ were so crucial. This could get ugly soon if those 2 do not step up their game. One can’t stay on the court due to foul trouble and the other looks like he doesn’t want to be there.

  19. Heavy C
    4:54 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

    Same crap….different year. Ask anybody in BBN who will give you a Honest answer on how much confidence they have in us being a serious contender to hang a banner this year and see what you get. I’m not one of those sky is falling serial numbskulls….but I just dont Cal has it. I mean you have either the 1st or 2nd ranked recruiting class EVERY YEAR….and its the same story. Its discoraging.

  20. jim tom
    9:20 pm December 22, 2019 Permalink

    All hail the return of Rick Pitino.