John Clay

Three areas Kentucky basketball needs to improve before SEC play

Wildcat Bam Adebayo (3) battled for a rebound with Louisville forward Deng Adel (22) as the host Cardinals won 73-70 on Wednesday. Louisville outrebounded UK 40-36.
Wildcat Bam Adebayo (3) battled for a rebound with Louisville forward Deng Adel (22) as the host Cardinals won 73-70 on Wednesday. Louisville outrebounded UK 40-36. Lexington Herald-Leader

It’s doubtful the hardcore Kentucky basketball fan cares what John Calipari wears to his post-game press conferences or who’s on the guest list for his new podcast.

Your hardcore Kentucky basketball fan sees the home loss to UCLA, the 47-point performance by Malik Monk needed to beat North Carolina and the road loss at Louisville and cares more about the improvement needed as SEC play begins Thursday at Ole Miss.

When the Cats return from Christmas break for the resumption of Camp Cal, here are three likely points of emphasis:

1. Half-court offense

Say what you will — and there’s plenty to say — about the Louisville basketball coach, but Pitino can still coach. He proved it again Wednesday at the Yum Center. His Cardinals slowed Kentucky’s breakneck pace not by letting the air out of the ball but by driving to the basket and eliminating the bad shots that so often lead to the Cats’ run-outs.

The strategy produced a half-court game. Kentucky’s 74 possessions were a season low. UK’s points per possession average of 0.949 was its second-lowest of the year, ahead of only the 0.926 it posted in its Champions Classic win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.

Afterward, Calipari said his team needed to do a better job feeding center Bam Adebayo, who made five of six shots. It wasn’t the first time this year the coach has made that point, nor will it be last. Given the final result at the Yum Center, look for other teams to follow the Pitino blueprint.

2. Free throw shooting

Despite UK’s struggles in the half-court, the Cats might have pulled out the win at Louisville had they been able to make their free throws down the stretch.

After going 11-of-13 from the foul line in the first half, UK was eight-of-16 in the second half. It missed seven of its final 13 attempts.

Adebayo was the chief culprit, missing five of his six attempts. Up 55-53 with 7:18 left, Adebayo missed two free throws. Down 67-62 with 2:34 remaining, the freshman missed two more. With the score still 67-62 at the 2:12 mark, Adebayo missed his first, but made his second free throw to cut the lead to four.

Kentucky finished 19-of-29 from the foul line for 65.5 percent, the fifth consecutive game it has shot less than 70 percent from the stripe. It was 18-of-27 from the line for 66.7 percent in the loss to UCLA. According to the latest NCAA stats, Kentucky’s free throw percentage of 68.3 ranks 211th nationally.

3. Rebounding

Louisville was the fifth team this year to outrebound Kentucky, beating the Cats 40-36 on the boards. It was Jan. 30 before last year’s team had been outrebounded five times. Calipari’s 2013-14 team was outrebounded just six times all season.

Offensive boards aren’t the problem. UK is claiming 38.5 percent of the opportunities its gets at an offensive rebound. According to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics, that ranks 13th nationally.

It’s a different story at the defensive end. Pomeroy ranks UK 242nd in protecting the boards on the defensive end, with opponents rebounding at a 31.5 percent clip. Stephen F. Austin rebounded 45.2 percent of its missed shots; Valparaiso 40.0; Hofstra 39.6 percent.

One explanation centers on UK’s desired tempo. Some Cats may be leaving early in anticipation of a fast break. There’s a fine line, however, between knowing when to take off and knowing when to go to the glass.

That’s at least one thing likely to be addressed this week as the Cats prepare for conference play.

Kentucky offensive points per possession

Date

Opponent

Poss

PPP

11/11/16

SFA

78.3

1.112

11/13/16

Canisius

74.5

1.248

11/15/16

vs Michigan St

74.5

0.926

11/20/16

Duquesne

81.0

1.149

11/23/16

Cleveland St

82.4

1.226

11/25/16

UT-Martin

80.8

1.374

11/28/16

vs Arizona St

83.5

1.378

12/3/16

UCLA

82.8

1.111

12/7/16

Valparaiso

78.9

1.102

12/11/16

vs Hofstra

77.0

1.247

12/17/16

vs North Carolina

79.0

1.304

12/21/16

@Louisville

73.8

0.949

Kentucky defensive points per possession

Date

Opponent

Poss

PPP

11/11/16

SFA

75.0

0.853

11/13/16

Canisius

75.5

0.914

11/15/16

vs Michigan St

72.3

0.664

11/20/16

Duquesne

77.5

0.762

11/23/16

Cleveland St

81.0

0.864

11/25/16

UT-Martin

81.5

0.933

11/28/16

vs Arizona St

82.1

0.840

12/3/16

UCLA

83.0

1.169

12/7/16

Valparaiso

77.0

0.818

12/11/16

vs Hofstra

77.6

0.941

12/17/16

vs North Carolina

78.3

1.277

12/21/16

@Louisville

71.5

1.021

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