Good morning, friends. Happy Friday to each and every one of you.
If you’re like me, you’re still scratching your head about whatever the hell that was down in Columbia, SC roughly 36 hours later. For starters, how do you get up by 14 in the second half and still lose? How do you allow a team to grab 20 offensive rebounds? How did Jermaine Couisnard get that side-step 30-footer off one leg to fall?
In an attempt to answer some of those questions (among other notes), here are some final thoughts on the trip to Columbia and how the Cats move forward:
Final thoughts on the trip to Columbia
As heartbreaking as it was, the loss seemed to spark more doom and gloom out of the fanbase than I expected. After the game, many fans took to social media, comment sections, and message boards to air out their grievances, noting that this loss was a game-changer for the season and ruined Kentucky‘s chances at a favorable draw in the NCAA Tournament. Some even began throwing the chill-inducing “NIT” acronym around a bit, which seems a bit silly to think about with just four losses and 15 games to go in the regular season alone.
Are the frustrations genuine? Absolutely. Reason to panic, though? No.
Not yet, at least.
Let’s first point out the facts. Interior defense and rebounding are becoming serious issues of late, with bench play being a problem for even longer. For the former, Nate Sestina has been exposed quite a bit, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that his role on this team is better suited as an offensive spark off the bench as the third frontcourt option rather than a premiere go-to option playing 30-plus minutes per contest. As a team, they can’t allow 20 offensive boards and expect to win. And as Calipari noted during his postgame press conference on Wednesday evening, they especially can’t afford one player to allow seven offensive rebounds in a game. Though the Bucknell graduate transfer was (unfortunately) the one with the poor game tape regarding interior play this time around, he’s certainly not the only one. EJ Montgomery has given up his fair share of easy baskets and offensive rebounds inside, as have Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks Jr. during their stints as small-ball fours.
As for the latter, if Kentucky is getting balanced production from all four of Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, and Richards, they’re fairly hard to beat. If one player (or several) from that group struggle(s) or deal with foul trouble, the Wildcats are seriously vulnerable to losing on any given night. John Calipari continues to work in the likes of Whitney, Brooks Jr., and Johnny Juzang not out of loyalty or depth, but out of necessity. For Kentucky to even sniff a serious run in the tournament this season, at least one of those players has to step up. I don’t care who it is, but four players (sometimes five with Sestina, lesser extent with Montgomery) giving consistent production with the rest providing little to nothing just isn’t going to cut it. It’s obvious Montgomery is in his own category of needing to make a leap. It’s sink or swim for the former five-star power forward and that core group of wings, and unfortunately, sinking could lead to the entire season being brought down.
Turning positive, Frank Martin was extremely complimentary of Kentucky after the game, specifically noting that Ashton Hagans was the “toughest point guard in the country” and that Nick Richards’ development from year one to now represents the “beauty of college basketball.” He also added that John Calipari doesn’t deserve enough credit for putting together competitive rosters year after year and that this team is no exception. Say what you want about the South Carolina head coach, but the praise was genuine and he certainly wasn’t wrong.
Hagans had one of his least-efficient and sloppy performances of the season, but at his worst, he still managed a 13-4-7 stat line. He’s the least of Kentucky’s worries right now. Richards continues to be an impact player on both ends of the floor, with foul trouble serving as his lone serious downfall at this point in the season. In fact, in Richards’ three lowest minute totals of the season – Evansville, Ohio State, and South Carolina – the Wildcats have lost all three games. His presence has been crucial. Factor in Immanuel Quickley’s dominance from deep and Tyrese Maxey maintaining his status as a scoring threat, the Wildcats have multiple options to take over when necessary. And they have on multiple occasions this season, most notably in high-profile wins against Michigan State, Louisville, and Georgia.
This team is loaded with talent, but unfortunately, the pieces at the top of the roster are further along than those at the bottom (or even that middle, for that matter). But as Martin noted, development is real, and guys like Montgomery, Whitney, Brooks, and Juzang will come along. Let’s just hope it’s in the coming weeks this season, not next (or later), because the team absolutely needs it. If not, the overly pessimistic fans just may end up being correct on the potential of this team.
Moving to some of the other aspects of the game, in terms of the atmosphere, I have to give props to the USC faithful in Columbia. While the announced 18,000 people didn’t arrive until tip-off and there were full sections left empty in the upper-level of the venue, those that showed up made a strong impact on the game. During key moments, the fans made life difficult for the visiting Wildcats and gave confidence to the Gamecock players. As the venue grew louder, the comeback efforts grew stronger. (As a side note, there were also a few hundred Kentucky fans sporting blue and white, as well, so props to the BBN for doing their part.)
As for the city itself, for those that haven’t been to Columbia for a game, I highly recommend it. The campus is beautiful, weather is nice, and the facilities for both basketball and football are impressive.
The only thing I don’t recommend about the trip is giving up a 14-point lead in the second half and a 30-foot bank shot to lose at the buzzer.
On that note, we move on…
Rhyne Howard leads Kentucky WBB to another big win
Another day, another massive victory for Matthew Mitchell and the Kentucky women’s basketball program. And once again, we have superstar guard Rhyne Howard to thank for that.
In No. 11 Kentucky’s 76-54 victory over No. 12 Texas A&M at home, the super sophomore managed 24 points on 9-19 shooting and 3-10 from three to go with 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal, and just one turnover in 29 minutes.
Outside of Howard, Sabrina Haines finished with 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists in the victory, while Blair Green tied her career-high with 13 points on 5-8 shooting.
In the team’s fourth consecutive victory, the Wildcats shot 49 percent from the floor and 44 percent from deep while outrebounding the Aggies, 33-29. Kentucky held A&M to just 37 percent shooting and forced them into 14 turnovers.
For the full game breakdown, check out Zack Geoghegan’s full recap from last night below:
Housekeeping notes for the weekend and moving forward
As this post goes live, I will be in the air on my way to Springfield, MA to cover the HoopHall Classic featuring UK signees Terrence Clarke, BJ Boston, Devin Askew, and Lance Ware, major targets such as Jonathan Kuminga and Cliff Omoruyi, and former targets such as Cade Cunningham and Sharife Cooper, among others.
From there, if all goes as planned, I will be driving to Boston to cover the Celtics vs. Grizzlies game on Wednesday evening, followed by a trip to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, NH on Thursday to do a recruiting profile on Terrence Clarke. As I stay busy in the *checks notes* 18-degree weather in the northeast, be on the lookout for some interesting content on the site over the next week or two.
Meanwhile, Nick Roush will be in Fayetteville covering Kentucky’s upcoming road matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Hopefully he brings better road luck than I did in Columbia.
Should be a fun time.
KSR in an hour
This morning, Matt Jones, Ryan Lemond, Drew Franklin, and Shannon the Dude are LIVE from Barleycorn’s in Cold Spring. There, the KSR crew will move on from Kentucky’s loss in Columbia, preview the team’s upcoming trip to Arkansas, and give away UK vs. Georgia lower-level tickets.
10 a.m. to noon. You won’t want to miss it.