Sidelines with John Clay

Looking ahead to Louisville, more thoughts on Kentucky basketball’s Saturday stunner

Ohio State Buckeyes guard Kam Williams (15) held onto the ball with everything he had as Kentucky Wildcats guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) tried to pry it away as Kentucky falls to Ohio State 74-67.December 19, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.
Ohio State Buckeyes guard Kam Williams (15) held onto the ball with everything he had as Kentucky Wildcats guard Isaiah Briscoe (13) tried to pry it away as Kentucky falls to Ohio State 74-67.December 19, 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Lexington Herald-Leader

On the way back from Brooklyn, here are some day-after thoughts after Kentucky got punched by Ohio State 74-67 at the Barclays Center on Sunday:

▪ After Saturday’s loss, Kentucky has dropped to 12th in the Ken Pomeroy ratings. The Cats are now 26th in offensive efficiency at 111.8 points per 100 possessions. UK is 14th in defensive efficiency at 92.4 points per 100 possessions.

With Louisville coming to Rupp Arena on Saturday, the day after Christmas, the Cardinals are ranked eighth overall by Pomeroy. Louisville is 19th in offensive efficiency at 112.5. The Cardinals are fourth in defensive efficiency, allowing 90.3 points per 100 possessions. Only Purdue (88.7), Oklahoma (89.2) and Valparaiso (89.8) rank ahead of U of L defensively.

Hey, you ask, haven’t the Cards played a creampuff schedule? That’s absolutely true. It is also true, however, that Pomeroy adjusts his numbers for strength of schedule.

▪ How much will Louisville be hurt by losing Mangok Mathiang on Saturday to a broken foot? The center had started just two of 10 games, but he was averaging 18.8 minutes per game. He was averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and shooting 56.3 percent from the floor.

In fact, Mathiang had been sharing the center spot with Chinanu Onuaku, who has started nine games but is averaging just 19.8 minutes per game. Onuaku is shooting 61.6 percent from the floor while averaging 9.8 points and 7.5 rebounds.

Louisville’s game revolves its experienced guard tandem of Damion Lee (18.3 points per game) and Trey Lews (13.8), but Rick Pitino has good depth inside with Onuaku, Mathiang, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud. Pitino now has to operate with one less piece.

Mahmoud has been out with an ankle sprain, so look for Spalding’s minutes to increase. The freshman from Louisville is averaging 14.3 per game which have produced six points and 4.3 rebounds. The good news for Pitino is that he has two games this week – Missouri-Kansas City on Tuesday and Utah Valley on Wednesday – to get his team used to playing without Mathiang.

▪ If Skal Labissiere took a step forward Sunday, it was a Brooklyn baby step. The heralded Kentucky freshman made just one of his seven shots and scored just two points in 21 minutes. He did grab five rebounds and block a pair of shots but again Labaissiere’s lack of strength hurt him on 50-50 balls and plays where Ohio State wrestled rebounds away from the UK center. At times, the best Skal could do was force a tie-up.

▪ Alex Poythress continued his season-long trend. Coming back from ACL surgery last year, Poythress has produced double-doubles against Wright State (10 points, 10 rebounds), Boston University (14 and 10) and Eastern Kentucky (21 and 13). Against the best teams on the UK schedule, however, Poythress has struggled. His combined stats against Power 5 opponents Duke, UCLA and Ohio State are now 19 points and 19 rebounds in 75 minutes. Poythress had six points and seven rebounds against the Buckeyes on Saturday.

▪ You have to wonder if Tyler Ulis’ elbow is more of a problem than the sophomore point guard will admit. Saturday, Ulis wore a protective sleeve on the elbow he hyperextended against South Florida on Nov. 27. He also missed six of his seven three-point shots. In the four games in which he has played since the trip to Miami, Ulis is six-of-25 from three-point range. That’s 24 percent.

▪ On his post-game radio show, John Calipari said that Derek Willis was injured this week and did not practice on Friday. Ohio State was the first game this season in which Willis did not appear.

▪ On the way to his 33-point afternoon, Jamal Murray’s 23 field goal attempts were the most by a Cat since Brandon Knight went six-for-23 against Connecticut in the 2011 Final Four. UK lost that game. Murray was 12-of-23 on Saturday. UK lost that game, too.

It will be interesting to see how teams now defend Murray after his breakout game. The freshman guard drained seven three-pointers in the second half, including four in the first 9:28 to finally get Kentucky’s motor started.

Ohio State coach Thad Matta said afterward that at one point he looked down his bench and asked, "Do we have anybody who can guard this guy?"

▪ Marcus Lee just missed his third double-double of the season. The junior grabbed nine rebounds to go along with his 12 points. Can you imagine where this UK team would be without Lee’s play this year. On a team that lacks an inside presence, his energy and athleticism has been a huge help. Remember, after being hit in the face, Lee played just four minutes in the loss at UCLA.

▪ Speaking of UK’s loss to UCLA, there were some similarities between the Cats’ loss on the West Coast and the Cats’ loss on the East Coast. After being slaughtered by Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic last season, UCLA had revenge on its mind this year. Spurred on by an unusually large and loud crowd at Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins were a determined bunch.

Knocked for its 5-5 start and not too far removed from a 20-point loss at Connecticut the Saturday before, Ohio State played as if its backs were against the Barclays Center wall. The Buckeyes were a determined bunch.

“We needed this win,” said Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop. “People underestimated us and we came out and showed them.”

▪ Remember, Kentucky was a 10-point favorite.

▪ Consider that Ohio State hit five three-point shots in the game’s first 10:36 on the way to a 25-15 lead. The Buckeyes made just four three-pointers the rest of the way, including two in the second half. Ohio State did not make a three over the game’s final 11:26.

▪ Kentucky’s loss at UCLA didn’t look all that bad when the Bruins were racing to an 11-point lead over North Carolina in the first game of the CBS Sports Classic on Saturday. Then the Bruins got loose with the basketball and North Carolina got hot.

Brice Johnson scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Heels, who were playing without center Kennedy Meeks, out with a bruised knee. Yes, North Carolina has lost two games, at Northern Iowa and at Texas. The Northern Iowa loss was without guard Marcus Paige and Northern Iowa knocked off Iowa State on Saturday. And Texas hit buzzer-beating shots at the end of both halves to beat UNC 84-82.

When the Heels are clicking, North Carolina is the best team in the country.

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