Jarred Vanderbilt: The shots just weren’t falling for UK
In addition to my column, three takeaways from Kentucky’s 69-60 loss at Missouri.
1. A dreadful offense can lead to debilitating droughts.
Kentucky entered Saturday’s matchup in Mizzou Arena ranked 47th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy, the lowest such offensive rating in the Calipari era.
Sure, when Kevin Knox is scoring 34 points as he did last Saturday at West Virginia in the comeback win over the Mountaineers, the offense is looks good. Knox scored just five points on six shots Saturday.
When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is penetrating and scoring as he did in scoring 30 points in the comeback overtime Tuesday win over Vanderbilt, the offense looks good. Gilgeous-Alexander missed 11 of 16 shots Saturday.
Overall, however, this offense has not looked good, not on a consistent basis. It has struggled, though not to the point it struggled Saturday, scoring just 18 points in the first half, shooting 31.3 percent as a team, including making two of 20 three-pointers.
Afterward, Calipari blamed the performance on his team’s unwillingness to pass the ball. He had thought his young club was doing better in that department, especially after he said he would emphasize that aspect by counting every pass a player makes as an assist. That hasn’t worked.
“I’m trying everything,” he said Saturday.
Consider this, Saturday was the fifth game in the last eight in which UK failed to have at least 10 assists. The Cats also averaged just 0.858 points per possession, its lowest total since 0.853 against Kansas back on Nov. 14.
There were several UK droughts Saturday. The Cats did not score a field goal from the 16:57 mark of the first half until the 8:50 mark. A 7-6 lead had become a 16-9 deficit before Sacha Killeya-Jones finally scored from the corner.
The Cats did not score a point the final 5:56 of the first half. A 20-18 Mizzou advantage became 28-18 at the intermission.
After cutting Missouri’s lead to 33-2, UK scored just two points in nearly five minutes. Later, the visitors scored all of one field goal from the 8:50 mark of the second half until just 3:42 remained.
2. This team is just not that crazy about physical play.
When Kentucky blew a 14-point second half lead at South Carolina, Calipari said he felt like his team got manhandled by the physical play employed by Frank Martin’s Gamecocks.
The coach did not repeat that theme Saturday, but some of the same elements existed. Like South Carolina’s Martin, Missouri’s Martin also values tough, physical basketball where his team is patient on offense, disciplined on defense and crashes the glass.
That seemed to both frustrate Calipari’s young club and get under its skin. Jarred Vanderbilt was called for a technical foul and a flagrant foul after a wrestling match with Missouri’s Jordan Geist, who also received a technical. Hamidou Dillao protested several calls before fouling out with just eight points. UK committed 29 fouls to 20 for the Tigers.
Though Kentucky won the board 40-36, Missouri converted off its offensive rebounds when UK did not. Despite claiming just 25.9 percent of its offensive rebound opportunities, Missouri outscored UK in second-chance points 12-11.
One of the game’s key baskets came with just under 10 minutes remaining when, with the shot clock running down, Geist missed a forced shot underneath. Kevin Puryear won the battle for the rebound, then quickly passed out to Kassius Roberson who buried the three-pointer.
After Missouri’s 10-point halftime lead to 33-32, Kentucky trailed 49-38 after Robertson hit his shot.
3. The stretch looks like a long, hard road
“We’ve got eight games left,” said Calipari in the post-game press conference, “and we could lose all eight.”
He’s not kidding.
Tennessee, which has already beaten UK at Thompson-Boling, visits Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.
Texas A&M, which lost to UK by one point at Rupp on Jan. 9, plays host to Kentucky next Saturday. The Aggies have been playing a bit better of late and will be tough to deal with in College Station.
On Feb. 14, Kentucky visits SEC leader Auburn, which entered Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt with a 20-2 overall record, 8-1 conference mark and a No. 11 ranking in the AP poll.
Then Saturday, Feb. 17, Alabama visits Rupp Arena. That’s the same Crimson Tide that rolled into Gainesville and put a 68-50 bruise on Mike White’s Florida Gators.
A road trip to Arkansas, home games against Missouri and Ole Miss followed by the regular-season finale at Florida close things out before the SEC Tournament.
UK is 6-4 in league play. That’s not the worst SEC record after 10 games for the Cats under Calipari. The 2010-11 team that reached the Final Four was 5-5 in the league at this point. It turned things around. Can this team do the same?
John Calipari SEC record at Kentucky