In addition to my column, three more things from Kentucky’s 87-77 loss at UCLA:
1. The most revealing thing John Calipari said
Outside the UK locker room, in front of a black curtain, the Kentucky coach talked to the media and among the things he said was, “We’ve had a pretty good run. Now we’ll see if we can get it going again.”
Was this directed at the fact that, until Thursday night, UK had not lost a regular-season game since early March of 2014? Did he mean that this loss will certainly knock the Cats out of the AP top ranking?
Or did Calipari mean this team is likely not as dominant and has more things to fix than some of his previous teams? To be sure, Kentucky showed plenty of flaws on Thursday. The Cats lacked a strong post presence. It didn’t help that Marcus Lee left the game early with a head injury and did not return. Lee was coming off a double-double against Illinois State on Monday night. Losing Lee hurt, but “that’s no excuse,” Calipari said.
UK’s guards were also “messing with the ball,” according to Calipari. Although UK was charged with just eight turnovers, three belonged to Jamal Murray. Isaiah Briscoe did well driving the basketball, but Tyler Ulis didn’t quite look like himself in his first game back after hyperextending his elbow against South Florida the day after Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, a veteran, Alex Poythress was limited to just 17 minutes before fouling out. He scored just four points and grabbed five rebounds. Poythress missed five of his six shots.
I took Cal’s comment as meaning he knows he has work to do with this team. As I wrote in my column, this long road trip brought the Cats face-to-face with the fact with reality. They can be a good team by March, but right now they have a long way to go.
When Calipari said a couple of weeks ago he can’t imagine there aren’t 20 teams better than his right now, that might not have been coach-speak. We shall see.
2. Skal Labissiere no match for the bigger Bruins
After a two-point, two-rebound game against Illinois State, the freshman center contributed just six points and one rebound in 16 minutes when facing a bigger, strong, more physical team. UCLA’s 7-footer Thomas Welsh finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. His running mate, 6-10 forward Tony Parker, who came into the game with five double-doubles, grabbed just three rebounds but finished with 11 points.
Since the start of fall practice, Calipari has been stressing that Labissiere needs to fight more. The 6-11 freshman can be smooth and skilled around the basket -- he made a sweet left-handed hook at one point -- but he needs more muscle and aggressiveness. Can you do that in a year?
“He’s got to do it,” Calipari said. “He’s got no options. Got go get lower. Got to use leverage. You can't try to use your arms and hands. When they come at you and you go down it's a foul now. You can't do it. He's going to be fine. Look, I've got all young kids.”
3. Give UCLA credit
Yes, UCLA lost to Monmouth. Yes, UCLA lost to Wake Forest. And yes UCLA got ripped by Kansas in Maui. But the Bruins aren't that bad. Plus, a tough early schedule probably helped Steve Alford's team.
Welsh may be the most improved player in the country. The sophomore hit eight of 11 shots from the field, many of them on wing jumpers. He also had 11 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass. Welsh also blocked two shots.
Turnovers had been UCLA’s big problem, but the Bruins committed just 10 on the night, turning it over on just 14.5 percent of their possessions. That helped Alford's club average 1.258 points per possession compared to 1.102 for UK.
The Bruins were also just the 11th team in the Calipari Era to shoot 50 percent or better against Kentucky. UCLA made 28 of 53 shots for 52.8 percent. After shooting 50 percent the first half, the Bruins shot 56 percent (14-of-25) in the second half.
“Part of the game plan was to get the big guys going,” said Steve Alford afterward. “Kentucky is long and athletic and we’re big and physical. We wanted to be aggressive right from the start and I thought our guards did a good job of getting the bigs the ball, and they made shots.”
Teams that have shot 50 percent against UK in Calipari Era
- 11-24-10 Connecticut 57.7
- 3-23-12 Indiana 52.2
- 1-12-13 Texas A&M 52.5
- 2-16-13 Tennessee 58.0
- 3-15-13 Vanderbilt 50.0
- 1-11-14 Vanderbilt 50.0
- 1-28-14 LSU 50.8
- 2-1-14 Missouri 52.9
- 3-8-14 Florida 59.6
- 3-23-14 Wichita State 55.1
- 12-3-15 UCLA 52.8