Sports

Cats need more substance to go with their 'wow' style

Eric Bledsoe was sneaking in from the blind side.

Arthur Zulu, Sam Houston State's 6-foot-8 center, was going up for what he thought was an uncontested second-half layup.

Yet before Zulu could get the ball to the rim, Bledsoe, UK's bouncy 6-foot-1 freshman guard, soared in from behind and pinned the ball between the rim and the backboard.

Where it stayed.

Rupp Arena roared.

Suffice to say, the "wow moment" has made an emphatic return to Kentucky basketball.

Yet if UK's 102-92 win Thursday night over the scrappy visitors from Texas showed that the thrill is back in Rupp, it also showed something else just as dramatically.

Three games in, Kentucky's kiddie corps is Yao Ming-long on style but Calvin Borel-short on substance.

"It was exciting to watch them going up and down the court," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said of his team. Pause.

Said Cal: "This may be, at this point, the worst defensive team that I have had."

There was ample Kentucky style.

All five UK starters scored at least 15 points. Three had 20 or more. Freshman big man DeMarcus Cousins had a monster game, 27 points and 18 rebounds in only 27 minutes.

Freshman guard John Wall (21 points, six assists) had an over-the-head backwards dunk that ended with his tongue wagging in a Jordan-esque manner.

Yet Wall's sweetest play came in the first half when he drove through four Sam Houston defenders, got to the rim, only to kick the ball out to an open Darius Miller (15 points) in the corner for a trey that Miller cashed.

Bledsoe (19 points, six assists) — who came out of high school reputed to be an erratic jump shooter — drained five three-pointers of his own.

"We did some good things offensively," Calipari said.

The performance on the substance side, however, left something to be desired.

For the second straight game, the UK perimeter defense was defenseless.

On Monday night, Miami forward Nick Winbush rifled in eight treys on the way to 26 points.

Thursday night, Sam Houston State's Corey Allmond made that look meager. For the 6-1 senior guard, Rupp Arena was Allmond joy as he drained 11 of 16 three-pointers and scored 37 points.

UK has allowed its last two foes to make a combined 33 three-pointers.

Said Cousins: "I've never heard of a team doing that. It's crazy."

Meaning, crazy bad.

"They have no urgency defensively. None," Calipari said. "Do you think we can score 100 against everybody? Because we are going to have to. They are going to score 100 against us."

Then there were the turnovers.

For every wow play Wall and Bledsoe make, the two freshmen kick out some head scratchers, too.

They each had six turnovers Thursday. Through three games, Bledsoe has 17 miscues; in two games, Wall has 11.

It's not exactly shocking that true freshman point guards — even gifted ones — struggle with ball security early in their first year.

"I was tired," Wall said of some late-game miscues. "But that's no excuse. There may be a close game where we need to close a team out, and I can't be turning the ball over like that."

For the ever-fretting UK fan base, you can also worry over foul shooting (19-of-29 against Sam Houston; 14-of-24 vs. Miami) and depth.

No Kentucky player scored other than a starter.

So, with all the lavish hype it brought into this season, Kentucky has some warts right now.

It should be expected from a team with a new coach installing a new system and starting three freshmen and a sophomore.

Still, with the wow factor clearly back in UK basketball, the current Cats are already a heck of a show.

They'll be the team everyone expected when the substance catches up with the style.

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