Sidelines with John Clay

John Clay: Kentucky basketball suffers a post-Duke letdown

Kentucky Wildcats forward Skal Labissiere (1) let out a big yell after a dunk as No. 2-ranked Kentucky beat Wright State 78-63 on Friday November 20, 2015 in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky Wildcats forward Skal Labissiere (1) let out a big yell after a dunk as No. 2-ranked Kentucky beat Wright State 78-63 on Friday November 20, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Lexington Herald-Leader

Three things from Kentucky's 78-63 win over Wright State on Friday night.

1. "We had a lot of casual play today." That was John Calipari's assessment. The Kentucky coach wasn't too happy with the way his team played, basically performing only as well as necessary to get the 15-point victory over a team that was 1-2 entering Rupp Arena.

Cal gave Wright State lots of credit for its strategy. The Raiders played a pack-line defense, sagging in on the post. Coach Billy Donlan said he wanted to force Kentucky to take 20 three-point shots. The Cats showed good patience, taking just 10 from behind the line, but making only two.

Overall, however, the game felt like a letdown after the big win over Duke on Tuesday. The Cats played just ok, nothing more, nothing less. They shot 53.2 percent and went 26-of-37 from the foul line for 70 percent, but committed 12 turnovers compared to nine assists.

There's got to be 20 teams better than us right now.

John Calipari

“I think we were a little too excited over the (Duke) win,” said Tyler Ulis, who when told that Calipari called it a step back said “Maybe two steps back.”

Here's an effort stat: Kentucky claimed just 26.9 percent of its offensive rebounds, seven out of 26 opportunities. That's way below a Calipari's team usual offensive rebound percentage.

"You tell me if that looked like the No. 2 team in the country," said the coach. "There's got to be 20 teams better than us right now."

2. "Tyler Ulis makes the right decision every single time," said Donlan. The WSU coach said the UK point guard never goes for the home run unless it is a home run play. "He never strikes out, never," said Donlan, adding that Ulis always makes the right decision in transition.

After a career-high 18 points against Duke, Ulis topped that with 21 points on Friday. The sophomore made five of his nine shots and was 10-of-12 at the foul line. He ended up with five assists compared to two turnovers.

Kentucky committed 12 turnovers compared to just nine assists.

3. Alex Poythress' double-double. The senior forward scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his first double-double since the first game of his sophomore season when he had 10 points and 13 rebounds against UNC-Asheville. True, Poythress missed almost all of last season after tearing his ACL. Still, that's a long time.

And yet, there were a couple of times where Poythress wasn't strong enough at the rim to suit Calipari.

"He had the last rebound he tried to grab with one hand," Calipari said. "He got beat on a the bounce a bunch. But to get the double-double and start down this road, let's go."

Kentucky individual game-by-game stats in a Google Doc

Kentucky men’s basketball next five games

  • Nov. 24 Boston University (9:00/SEC)
  • Nov. 27 @South Florida (5:00/ESPN)
  • Nov. 30 Illinois State (7:00/ESPN2)
  • Dec. 3 @UCLA (9:00/ESPN)
  • Dec. 9 Eastern Kentucky (7:00/ESPN2)
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