As losses go, last nights 59-55 loss to Alabama was one of the most personally frustrating ones since I started this blog almost four years ago. Maybe the most. Usually I am pretty good at shaking off losses and being optimistic, but like the 2011 loss to Louisville in football and the Baylor game this year, this game left me with a big blue funk the next day. And for good reason. The losses were infuriating because in spite of UK playing horribly, they still should have won the game in the end but could not make the plays.
Once again, the inability of this team to play a compete game was infuriating. Despite going over 15:00 with just one FG, Kentucky still had a chance to take the lead when Kyle Wiltjer missed the front end of a one and one with 1:20 remaining. And it was all downhill from there. This was a game that Kentucky seemed to have the game in control at half and led 33-24. If you are looking for villains, look no further than the guard play. Here is what John Calipari had to say:
“Our guard play was – Julius Mays did what he could do – but our guard play was not near their guard play, it just wasn’t. We reverted back to just throwing it to Kyle Wiltjer in the post to try to keep the game close, to give us a chance to win, and we had our chances. If they are not going to call those [fouls], then Archie [Goodwin] needed to pull up or shoot around them. I just kept telling him and he just kept going. So I will watch the tape to see if he got wacked or not and he may not have, the official was right on it and said he didn’t get touched – bodies were flying – but he said he didn’t get touched and I have to trust [the official’s] judgment on it. You have to give Alabama credit. They fought and had great confidence and they played to win. We played not
to lose, which young guys do on the road at times.
We continue to hear the “young team” comment from Calipari into late January and it’s obvious that the freshmen are not playing up to previous seasons expectations. You can argue that over the past three games, only one freshman has really stepped up his game and that the top three players on this team right now are Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer, and Julius Mays.
Noel is hitting 58.3% of his shots over the past three games with 30 points, 31 rebounds, and 20 blocks. Wiltjer is hitting 54.5% of his shots and averaging 16 points and 5.7 rebounds a game. He has also tossed in 6 three pointers and is playing aggressive and with newfound confidence. Julius Mays has hit 66.7 of his three pointers (8-12) and is averaging 9 a game. Here is what Noel and Wiltjer had to say after the game:
Nerlens Noel, Forward #3
On if Alabama’s big men had any effect on Noel’s game:
“They were just trying to play physical and trying to keep me off the ball with a lot of chippy things. They just kept fighting.”
On staying disciplined on shot fakes:
“I came up off my feet; I wasn’t disciplined. I should’ve stayed on my feet and stayed disciplined.”
Kyle Wiltjer, Forward #33
On what was the difference in tonight’s game:
“We didn’t close it out. They made their run and we didn’t execute down the stretch. We didn’t get stops and didn’t get key rebounds.”
On if missed opportunities makes this loss sting more:
“I mean it kills you any time you lose, so it hurt, especially because we knew we could have won the game. We didn’t execute down the stretch, so it definitely hurts a lot.”
Much like the Baylor game, I am still grasping for reasons on how Kentucky managed to lose this game. Kyle Tucker seems to share the confusion and has a possible reason:
On the one hand, this one’s really hard to figure. Kentucky lost a game tonight in which the opposing team shot just 36.8 percent and had 12 fewer rebounds than the Cats. UK lost a game that it led by 11 early, by nine at the half, and which felt very much like a mismatch for the first 20 minutes. The Cats lost a game in which Nerlens Noel had 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots and Kyle Wiltjer was once again Mr. Versatility (out of nowhere) with 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a steal – and an array of new moves around the rim. Go figure.
On the other hand, it makes perfect sense. When the going got tough, a young team reverted to the bad habits it has been trying to break. Noel starting leaving his feet in the waning moments – and his teammates were of no help, so he’d alter a shot and Alabama would be right there to put it back in. The Cats gave up four offensive boards in the final 2:53, two in the last minute, both of which led to points. And Ryan Harrow, so steady of late, flat-lined tonight (3-of-12 shooting). And Archie Goodwin, coming off his headiest, most efficient game all year, was back to blasting his way into the lane and tossing a wild shot off the backboard, hoping to draw a foul. Even when that worked, he sank just 3 of 6 at the line.