Wenyen Gabriel: We’re struggling to find our identity
Hamiou Diallo likened Kentucky’s season to a carnival ride. “It’s an up-and-down roller coaster,” he said after UK outlasted Georgia 66-61 on Sunday.
If so, Kevin Knox’s stomach must be in his throat. His dramatic dip in production continued with 2-for-10 shooting and seven points against Georgia. That made him 4-for-18 as a shooter (1-for-7 from three-point range) in the last two games.
Although UK Coach John Calipari said after the Louisville game Friday that his team could no longer cite being freshmen as an excuse, he made an exception for Knox.
“The youngest freshman in the country,” Calipari called Knox.
The UK coach said he liked to evaluate players who are in a funk. Do they make excuses? Or do they double-down on working through a slump?
“You can’t talk your way (out),” Calipari said, “and you can’t listen to, ‘Well, he takes you out every time you make a mistake.’ ...
“That’s not true.”
Earlier this season, Kentucky often went to Knox when it needed a basket. He seemed to be moving toward go-to guy status. Now, Calipari said, the learning process typical of all freshmen has hit Knox.
“The game got physical,” Calipari said of UK-Georgia. “It’s all new to him. So, I’m not going to leave him in there to fail.”
Diallo endorsed Calipari’s work-work-work advice for Knox.
“Just keep defending,” he said of Knox’s way forward. “Just defending, bring energy to the game, talking, and try to burst through the low point that you’re at.”
UK will address Knox’s recent slide, Calipari said. “I’m calling his number a lot, still calling his number even if he’s not playing great. Because I know he has to play for us to win.”
PJ Washington was his own worst enemy early in the game. He picked up a foul 70 seconds into the game when he crowded Georgia guard William “Turtle” Jackson a good 35 feet from the basket.
“Why would you do that?” Calipari said. “Why body him?”
Washington went to the bench with a second foul at the 17:36 mark and did not return until the second half.
“Kind of iffy,” Calipari said of the second foul. “But the first one was a foul. So now you have two, and I’m not going to lose the game in the first half. You get two (fouls), I’m not playing you unless the game’s getting away.”
Georgia made only two of 21 three-point shots. With Louisville making only three of 25 on Friday, UK’s last two opponents made only 10.9 percent of their shots from beyond the arc (5-for-46).
“That’s been an emphasis for coach the past couple games, past couple of days,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Watching film. And we’ve just done a good job.”
Calipari likened UK’s poor three-point defense against UCLA (which made 12 of 30 shots) to a game of H-O-R-S-E.
“Now you see us running at people,” he said of UK contesting three-point shooters in the last two games. “ ... We’re desperate to get to the guy versus, ‘Wow, he got that shot.’ We’re now in a desperate mode.”
Two fouls inside the game’s first three minutes doomed Nick Richards to a forgettable night. He played only three minutes, which contributed to his first game without a point.
It also was the first game without a rebound for UK’s leading rebounder.
When asked about Richards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said, “I think Nick needs to take a step back. Relax. Get his mind off basketball a little bit. That usually helps me.
“Just re-focus. He’ll be special again.”
Butch Lee attends
Former Marquette star Butch Lee sat in the first row of the upper arena. One of his sons played for a prep school in Cincinnati.
Lee recalled that his first NCAA Tournament game came against Kentucky in 1975. He went scoreless as UK won 76-54.
“You guys had a team so big,” Lee said. “I didn’t see any room.”
Two years later, Lee scored a team-high 19 points in Marquette’s victory over North Carolina in the national championship game.
Lee lives in Puerto Rico, where he runs a business that makes signs. Hurricane Maria knocked out his lights at home. He said he is still using generators to have power.
With the game’s many missed shots, either team might have wondered whether Lee had any eligibility remaining. As a guard for Marquette from 1974-75 through 1977-78, he made 47.5 percent of his shots and 84.8 percent of his free throws.
There’s experience, and then there’s the experience possessed by Georgia redshirt senior Juwan Parker.
Parker, who did not have a huge impact on the game (five points), received a bachelor’s degree in Management in 2015. He then received a master’s degree in Sport Management in 2017. That made him the only current Division I player with a master’s degree.
Now Parker is working on a second master’s in Family Financial Planning. And, he’s engaged to be married.
Laissez-faire UK-U of L?
Georgia Coach Mark Fox scoffed at the notion that a hangover from the rivalry game against Louisville 48 hours earlier contributed to UK’s first-half struggles.
“That game wasn’t emotional,” Fox said. “They steamrolled Louisville. ... They sat there in the second half and drank Gatorade. ... They weren’t drained. Guys didn’t play huge minutes. They were as fresh as they could be.”
Diallo had his first double-double. It was a perfect 10: 10 points and 10 rebounds. ... SEC teams finished the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 15-23 record against opponents from the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac 12. Overall, SEC teams had a record of 129-40. The SEC feasted on teams from the Big South (8-0), Southern (7-0) and Sun Belt (7-0) conferences. ... Kentucky improved to 61-5 against Georgia in Lexington.