Sidelines with John Clay

Three take-aways from Kentucky basketball’s underwhelming reboot

Three take-aways from Kentucky’s 92-85 win over LSU:

1. The reboot might need a reboot

Yes, Kentucky got a win, just its second in its last five games. Yes, John Calipari’s club owned a commanding 25-point lead with 8:47 to go in the game. But let’s not get carried away here.

For starters, LSU is awful. The Tigers lugged a nine-game losing streak into Rupp Arena. Eight of those came in conference play. Johnny Jones’ club had shown an aversion to defense through the year, ranking 256th in defensive efficiency, 295th in field goal percentage defense and 350th in scoring defense, giving up 81.2 points per game.

Why, less than two weeks ago, Florida rolled into Baton Rouge and clobbered the Tigers 101-76 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, handing LSU a beating so bad that Jones felt the need to apologize to Tigers fans after the game.

Tuesday night, on the road, it was a different story. LSU had to feel good about the way it played, especially over the final eight minutes, when it outscored the Cats 34-16. The visitors shot 62.5 percent the second half. That’s not a typo. In fact, the Tigers outscored Kentucky 58-49 over the final 20 minutes.

Afterward, Calipari said he thought his team was on the right path, but one had to wonder whether that’s based on belief or hope. Is Cal up to his motivational tricks — using the same thinking behind calling this a “reboot” after that 22-point slapdown at Florida last Saturday? Or did he really see a difference in the way his team played overall?

This we do know: Calipari said that if this were the old days, he would have had his team meet at the Joe Craft Center at 10 p.m. for a three-hour practice “until people were puking.” Alas, you can’t do that anymore. So the coach said Wednesday that his team will practice for three hours and “get after it.”

Does that sound as if he was pleased?

2. Kentucky’s defense looks like the E-Z pass lane

As mentioned previously, LSU shot 62.5 percent the second half. The Tigers shot 50 percent for the game. This from a team that is now 1-10 in SEC play. Not that LSU is a lone wolf when it comes to shooting well against the Cats. Kansas shot 50 percent. Mississippi State shot 54.2 percent. North Carolina shot 53 percent.

Worse, LSU scored 58 points in the second half, the most by a UK opponent since Louisville scored 59 on Jan. 5, 2008. That’s the Billy Gillispie Era. Over the last four games, Kansas scored 52 points in the second half on UK. Georgia scored 47. Florida scored 54. Figure in LSU’s 58 and the last four foes have averaged 52.75 points on the Cats. Not good.

Calipari said he wasn’t sure whether fatigue was a factor, but he acknowledged breakdowns over the final eight minutes. “Defensively, Bam got his third foul and just stopped playing,” the coach said. “He just ran from layups.”

Overall, LSU averaged 1.102 points per possession, the sixth team in the past seven games to top the 1.0 mark against the Cats. (Kentucky averaged 1.221 points per possession on Tuesday.)

Remember when Calipari said that by February this should be an elite defensive team? It’s February. And if Kentucky doesn’t start improving on that end of the floor, there’s not going to be much to celebrate in March. It’s as simple as that.

3. First place in the SEC is a crowded house

Alabama stunned No. 19 South Carolina 90-86 in a four-overtime marathon in Columbia, a game in which the Crimson Tide blew a 17-point lead in regulation but somehow ultimately managed to hand the Gamecocks their second loss in 11 SEC games.

Meanwhile, Florida knocked off Georgia 72-60 in Athens to run the Gators’ record to 9-2, which means Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida are now all tied atop the SEC standings.

And guess where Kentucky heads Saturday? On to Tuscaloosa, to face Avery Johnson and Co. after the Crimson Tide’s biggest win of the year.

South Carolina got 44 points from Sindarius Thornwell, who made 25 of 33 free throws, but it wasn’t enough to beat back Bama, which got 23 points off the bench from Avery Johnson Jr. and held South Carolina to a ridiculously low 26.l percent shooting from the floor.

Alabama is now 14-9 overall and 7-4 in league play. It was a nice bounce-back for a team that was swept by Auburn in the season series thanks to the Tigers’ 82-77 win over Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. (Auburn won the first meeting by 20.)

Meanwhile, Kentucky has not played well on the road in the league. Well, the Cats did once, whipping Ole Miss 99-76 on Dec. 29. Once the calendar flipped to 2017, however, UK had to hold on to beat Vanderbilt 87-81 in Nashville and Mississippi State 88-81 in Starkville.

Then, on Jan. 24, the Cats were beaten 82-80 at Tennessee when the Vols out-executed UK down the stretch. Then there was last Saturday, when Kentucky was crushed in the renovated O’Connell Center by a Florida team that is hitting its stride.

Maybe Alabama is going to be fired up for Saturday — Kentucky is everyone’s Super Bowl, remember — after winning its first road game against a Top 25 SEC team on the road since Feb. 21, 2004, when the Tide beat No. 4 Mississippi State 77-73.

“That’s our next one,” Calipari said Tuesday. “Think of that.”

Kentucky’s scoring in each half this season

Date

Opponent

UK-1H

Opp-1H

Mrg

UK-2H

Opp-2H

Mrg

11/11/16

Stephen F Austin

48

32

16

39

32

7

11/13/16

Canisius

44

35

9

49

34

15

11/15/16

vsMichigan State

34

26

8

35

22

13

11/20/16

Duquesne

50

23

27

43

36

7

11/23/16

Cleveland State

56

35

21

45

35

10

11/25/16

UT-Martin

53

38

15

58

38

20

11/28/16

vsArizona St

58

30

28

57

39

18

12/3/16

UCLA

45

49

-4

47

48

-1

12/7/16

Valparaiso

45

24

21

42

39

3

12/11/16

vsHofstra

48

33

15

48

40

8

12/17/16

vsNorth Carolina

56

51

5

47

49

-2

12/21/16

@Louisville

40

39

1

30

34

-4

12/29/16

@Ole Miss

60

39

21

39

37

2

1/3/17

Texas A&M

50

27

23

50

31

19

1/7/17

Arkansas

41

38

3

56

33

23

1/10/17

@Vanderbilt

45

41

4

42

40

2

1/14/17

Auburn

51

39

12

41

33

8

1/17/17

@Miss St

46

34

12

42

47

-5

1/21/17

S Carolina

47

38

9

38

31

7

1/24/17

@Tennessee

34

39

-5

46

43

3

1/28/17

Kansas

32

27

5

41

52

-11

1/31/17

Georgia

29

29

0

47

47

0

2/4/17

@Florida

26

34

-8

40

54

-14

2/7/17

LSU

43

27

16

49

58

-9

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