Sidelines with John Clay

Three take-aways from Kentucky’s loss to UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic

Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel (32) and UCLA forward Gyorgy Goloman (14) go for a loose ball during UCLA’s 83-75 win in the CBS Sports Classic at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017.
Kentucky forward Wenyen Gabriel (32) and UCLA forward Gyorgy Goloman (14) go for a loose ball during UCLA’s 83-75 win in the CBS Sports Classic at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. aslitz@herald-leader.com

In addition to my column, three take-aways from Kentucky’s 83-75 loss to UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic:

1. The roller-coaster ride of youth

They’re kids, right. They’re going to have ups and downs. You may not have heard this, but Kentucky is starting five freshmen. It is the youngest team maybe in the history of basketball, certainly since modern metrics began keeping track of such things. And with kids, some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.

For example, last Saturday, Hamidou Diallo made a season-high four of seven three-pointers in UK’s win over Virginia Tech. He scored 20 points. He was named the SEC’s Freshman of the Week. Saturday, against UCLA, Dillao was just seven-of-18 from the floor. He was one-of-five from three-point land. He scored 18 points but he needed 18 shots.

Last Saturday, playing in dark glasses to protect an eye injury, freshman guard Quade Green went six-of-12 from the floor, dished five assists with just one turnover and scored 17 points. This Saturday, Green started out wearing the dark shades but then ditched them on the way to going one-of-seven from the floor. Green missed all four of his three-point attempts. He scored a season-low two points.

Last Saturday, freshman forward PJ Washington made some big plays down the stretch and ended up with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. This Saturday, there were stretched you forgot Washington was in the game. He ended up with nine points and four rebounds. He had just one assist.

Last Saturday, Kentucky made 11-of-22 three-pointers. This Saturday, Kentucky made six-of-21 three-pointers. To be honest, that might have been the difference between winning and losing right there considering Virginia Tech made 10 threes last Saturday and UCLA made 12 this Saturday.

Of course, as John Calipari said, “We’re playing freshmen.”

2. Thumbs down to New Orleans as a site for the CBS Sports Classic

Yes, we know, New Orleans is great. There’s great food. There’s great entertainment. There’s great culture. There’s great opportunities to experience things you don’t get to experience anywhere else. New Orleans is not great for basketball, however.

The crowd for Saturday’s Ohio State-North Carolina/Kentucky-UCLA doubleheader was listed as 8,119. That’s half the capacity of the Smoothie King Center, the arena where the New Orleans Pelicans play in the NBA, which is right next door to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where the New Orleans Saints play in the NFL.

When football is still going on, New Orleans doesn’t care about college basketball. It just doesn’t. True, the date for Saturday’s affair was not good. Two days before Christmas is not advantageous. But I’m not sure that a better date would have made for a much better crowd.

If you compare the two, the CBS Sports Classic pales in comparison to the Champions Classic. The latter has Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. It is played early in the season when there is a curiosity about the four teams, who year-in and year-out are Final Four contenders. Not all the CBS Sports Classic members fit that description.

In fact, I think Kentucky and its fans would be better off by playing a good opponent in a home-and-home series. Say North Carolina, whom Kentucky will play in the CBS Sports Classic in 2018, it was announced Saturday. In Chicago.

3. Hello Santa, it’s Louisville week

If Saturday’s loss spoiled Christmas for the Big Blue Nation, then the fact that Louisville is next on the basketball schedule will undoubtedly make for a very anxious holiday season. Instead of “What’s under the tree?” it’ll be “Will we be able to bounce back against the Cards?”

We’ll write plenty more about the craziness and uncertainty of this year’s matchup, thanks primarily to what has gone on in Louisville over the past six months. The U of L that will visit Rupp Arena is a far different U of L than the one that has visited in recent years. And there’s one big reason for that.

Meanwhile, when the Cats return from Christmas break, John Calipari knows he has some work to do. Louisville is the last non-conference game before league play. New Year’s Eve brings Georgia to town for the SEC opener. And, as we we have stated, the SEC is an improved league this year.

It is also Camp Cal time, too, so expect a lot of talk and stories about how this young team really needs nothing but basketball over the next couple of weeks. And, as Saturday proved, it does.

Kentucky’s next five games

Date

Opponent

12/29/17

Louisville

12/31/17

Georgia

1/3/18

@LSU

1/6/18

@Tennessee

1/9/18

Texas A&M

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