On Friday night/Saturday morning, the Baylor Bears defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 67-62 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas, dropping the Wildcats to 7-2 on the season. With all of head coach John Calipari’s young University of Kentucky’s teams, the Big Blue Nation has come to expect a few growing pains between Big Blue Madness and the NCAA Tournament. Early in the season, Calipari’s teams lack cohesion on defense and fluidity on offense and that is usually attributed to simply not having a lot of on-court time with one another. For the most part, the fans have altered their expectations and allowed for the occasional hiccups, particularly before the first of the year. The one expectation that has remained: the young players must show improvement and growth.
After an extended delay due to the incredible Baylor/Kentucky women’s game (a 4 overtime instant classic), the men’s part of the double header started nearly an hour late, not tipping off until nearly 11:20 eastern time. A huge concern, as it’s been for most of this season, was how the Cats would start the game as they’ve seemingly developed a habit of falling behind early only to come storming back later in the game. And this game was no different as Baylor jumped out to an early first half lead. The Cats did storm back to take a 38-35 lead into halftime. The Wildcats extended the lead to 10 midway through the second half and, at one point, had 16 assists on 18 made field goals and looked to be in control of the game. Then, the Bears fought back and the Cats did not respond.
Kentucky had 4 turnovers and only 1 field goal on its next 7 possessions and Baylor tied the game. And as the game got tighter, the Cats went away from the ball movement that had helped them solve the Bears’ morphing zones (Baylor played a 1-3-1, 2-3, 3-2 mixture of zone defenses) throughout most of the game. The Cats made TWO field goals in the last 13 minutes of the game and continued their worrisome free throw shooting, finishing 12 out of 23 (52.2%) for the game. And in the most telling statistic of all, the Wildcats were outrebounded 41-25.
The Cats have reached the point in the season where they need to buckle down. With the talent and size on this team, Kentucky should not be outrebounded at all, let alone by such a wide margin. The free throw shooting has to improve. And, fair or not, there’s no room for freshman-like mental break downs. Everyone of these highly recruited kids wanted to come to Kentucky and be on the big stage and it’s time to start see a faster rate of growth. There need to be more eye popping moments than head scratching ones. I still believe that the guys will get it. I have faith in this team and in Coach Cal. It’s much too early to write off this team and I’m not going to do it.