Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 73-70 loss at Louisville:
1. Louisville did the better job of playing to its plan
Backed by a loud home crowd, with the motivation of turning the gathering tide on a series that Rick Pitino admitted Kentucky “had been dominating,” Louisville did a better job of executing its game plan than UK on Wednesday night.
Known for its stellar defense, the Cards limited UK’s explosive offense to 39.7 percent shooting from the floor. Kentucky made just five of 22 three-point shots. The Cats were credited with just 12 fast-break points. And overall, UK averaged just 0.949 points per possession, just the second time this year it had been under the 1.0 threshold. (UK averaged just 0.926 against Michigan State.) Contrast that to Saturday when the Cats averaged 1.304 points per possession in the 103-100 win over North Carolina.
Afterward, however, Pitino appeared happier with the performance of his offense. Louisville did a great job attacking the basket. The Cards drove the ball and drove the ball, taking advantage of UK’s inability to stop Louisville on the bounce. Pitino said he decided the best way to slow Kentucky’s devastating fast break was to take good shots, especially good shots close to the basket.
Louisville ended up shooting 43.3 percent, but the Cards took just 14 three-pointers, making six. Junior guard Quentin Snider scored a career-high 22 points, but just two of his 10 baskets came from beyond three-point range.
Louisville also scored 11 second-chance points to just four for UK. And for the fifth time in 11 games, the Cats were outrebounded. Louisville won the glass 40-36. Kentucky’s offensive rebound percentage was just 28.2 percent, a season low.
2. The dark and winding road can be a scary place
As I pointed out in my column, Kentucky is now just 2-6 in its first true road game since John Calipari arrived as its coach. (Hat tip to Kevin Faris who tweeted the 2-5 record before the game). By true road game, we’re talking about the Cats playing on another team’s regular home floor.
John Calipari blamed his team’s lack of discipline, which could be construed as focus, and at least part of that showed up at the foul line. UK was 19-of-29 on the night for 65.5 percent. Not terrible. Here’s the thing: the Cats made just six of their final 13 free throws.
With 7:18 left, UK up 55-53, Bam Adebayo missed two free throws. With 4:12 remaining, UK down 63-59, Isaiah Briscoe made both ends of the bonus. But with 3:13 left, UK down 65-61, De’Aaron Fox made just one of two at the line.
With 2:34 left, and Kentucky trailing 67-62, Adebayo missed two more free throws. With 2:12 remaining, he made one of two to pull UK within 67-63.
Fox was able to complete a three-point play by making a free throw with 57 seconds left to cut the lead to 69-66. But Derek Willis made just one of two with 41 seconds left. That cut the Louisville lead to 69-67.
Adebayo finished one-of-six from the line. It’s been a struggle for the freshman center, who has now made just two of 10 three throws over his last three games. Fox was six-of-10 from the line. After struggling at the stripe, the freshman guard had made 11 of 12 free throws in his two previous games.
3. At end of the night, UK is one up, two down
Bottom line: Against the three best teams on its schedule to date, Kentucky is 1-2. The Cats played one of those teams, UCLA, at home and lost. It played one on a neutral floor, North Carolina in Las Vegas, and won. It played one away from home, Louisville at the KFC Yum Center, and lost.
So how good is this Kentucky basketball team?
If you wanted to look at the glass as being half-empty, you’d point out that the Cats needed an amazing 47-point effort from Malik Monk against UNC or the Cats would be 0-3 in these top-flight games.
Wednesday night, Monk returned to the world of the mortals, making just six of 17 shots, including just one of nine from three-point range. Monk missed his first seven three-pointers before finally making one – a big one – to pull UK within 71-70 with 10 seconds left. Then the Arkansas native missed what would have been the tying shot at game’s end.
If you want to look at the glass as being half-full, however, you’d point out, as Calipari did, that it’s just Dec. 21 and UK started four freshmen and a sophomore on Wednesday night.
Fox was Kentucky’s best player, scoring 21 points, making seven of 15 shots. Though Adebayo struggled at the foul line, he still had 11 points and nine rebounds. Mychal Mulder came off the bench to hit a pair of three-points. Derek Willis, who did not start, grabbed nine rebounds in 28 minutes.
On the other side, UK needs more out of Isaiah Briscoe, who scored eight points but made just one of five shots. Wenyen Gabriel grabbed seven rebounds in just 12 minutes, but scored only two points. Dominique Hawkins failed to score in 17 minutes.
“I should have subbed more,” said Calipari afterward when asked if the team felt the effect of traveling from Las Vegas to Lexington on Saturday, then on to Louisville.
It wasn’t the distance that bothered UK on Wednesday, it was facing a good team in a hostile environment, a team that carried out its game plan.
“Give credit to Louisville,” said Calipari.
Kentucky men’s basketball 2016-17
Stephen F Austin