There are a few things that fans of the Big Blue Nation concern themselves with throughout a season with John Calipari as the head coach; Can the freshman put it together in time? Who is going to assert themselves as the team leader? How many of these kids are going to be leaving at the end of the year?
Now in year 10 with Coach Cal, fans know what to expect. They know how the team will play and who is going to get the ball. It’s the circle of Kentucky basketball’s life. What fans aren’t accustomed to is being severely outrebounded on the offensive glass, to the point that it cost the ‘Cats a chance to win a road game against an inferior team in the SEC.
In Kentucky’s 81-78 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Wednesday night, the ‘Cats allowed 20 offensive rebounds – 12 in the first half and eight in the second. Over the last two-and-a-half seasons, Kentucky has never allowed an opponent to haul in that many offensive rebounds.
Only one team in that span has secured at least 19 offensive boards against the ‘Cats (ETSU in Nov. 2017, which UK won by 17 points). The most Kentucky had allowed this season before Wednesday’s loss was 16 in a win over the Louisville Cardinals.
“They had 12 offensive rebounds at half,” John Calipari said after the game. “12… Seven of them came on one guy of mine. Seven were on one. And now they end up with 20 which is eight in the [second] half, which isn’t bad, but we only get 10. We’re not winning. We’re not winning that way.”
A good guess as to who the culprit for allowing seven offensive rebounds is would be Nate Sestina, who admitted during the postgame press conference that the rebounding issues started with him.
“They outrebounded us. It started with me not hitting guys on the offensive glass,” Sestina said. “They outhustled us. Coach [Tony] Barbee said at the beginning of the game the more physical team is going to win and they were more physical than us, and that was it.”
There was a moment in particular that sparked the massive second-half comeback for the Gamecocks. With 13 minutes left, South Carolina forward Keyshawn Bryant snuck underneath the Kentucky bigs for a crowd-hyping putback dunk that seemingly shifted the momentum on both sides.
“I missed a box out on No. 24 [Keyshawn Bryant] and he got an offensive rebound putback dunk, that kind of shifted the momentum a little bit, [the] crowd got into it and then he had another one right down the middle of the lane I didn’t crack down on him. He got another opportunity at a dunk. Got the crowd going again.”
Keyshawn Bryant drops the HAMMER ? pic.twitter.com/bltm3tAtK4
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 16, 2020
Kentucky had managed to extend its halftime lead to as many as 14 points with a little over 15 minutes left in the game. Bryant’s dunk came at the 13-minute mark and cut the Wildcat lead to just nine. UK would rattle off four straight points following the highlight play by South Carolina, but the Gamecocks built off the energy of the crowd over the next 10 minutes to complete the comeback.
16 second-chance points for USC compared to 10 for Kentucky would prove to be the difference.
Sestina owned up to his shortcomings in Columbia, but it doesn’t change the outcome. Kentucky still has four losses on the season. The ‘Cats came into South Carolina riding a four-game winning streak and looking they had turned at least one corner. That optimism was all wiped away with one bad game. But it shouldn’t be all that difficult to gain it back.
“I think we’re a tough team,” Sestina continued. “I think we’ve proven that a little bit. We lost two in Vegas, came back and won a couple on the road, couple big ones in a row. Lost one to Ohio State out in Vegas, we came back had a couple of good days of practice and beat Louisville who is a good team. I think that kind of shows how tough we are and this is just another opportunity for us to mourn for 24 hours – coach always says – then just get back after it. Tomorrow’s a new day, today is in the past. The game is over, can’t do anything about it now. The outcome is what it is.”
Kentucky has a tough stretch of games coming up. They face Arkansas on the road, then host Anthony Edwards and Georgia before taking on a ranked Texas Tech team. Sestina is right in pointing out that Kentucky has been in this position already – it happened less than a month ago. But if the team as a whole gives up 20 offensive rebounds in any of those three upcoming matchups, we might be talking about this all over again.