Jan 14, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Dominique Hawkins (25) reacts during a break in play against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas defeated Kentucky 87-85 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Basketball: Where Do We Go From Here?


Much like the Christian Laettner shot in 1992, Michael Qualls dunk at the buzzer in overtime will be remembered in highlight reels to come. But what often gets overlooked is the play(s) before the play. And like Sean Woods high arching shot in 92, a lot of good things that the Wildcats did on Tuesday night in Fayetteville are going to be forgotten and overlooked. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is, especially when the 13th ranked Wildcats lose to the Arkansas Razorbacks 87-85 on a last second dunk.

Jan 14, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts to a play during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas defeated Kentucky 87-85 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

The Good:

Alex Poythress has found his role on the team. He’s the Sixth Man. He’s the finisher. And if he’s not a vocal leader, his play and effort was there to lead the Cats. He had 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks. But, in my mind, he had the play of the night. In overtime with the Cats down three, Poythress grabbed a rebound that Kentucky desperately needed to give James Young an opportunity to shoot and hit a three pointer to tie the game. Poythress is going to end up being one of those guys with a modest stat line, but who’s impact on the game will be undeniable.

Dec 28, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) dunks against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Julius Randle was in beast mode for most of the second half. Randle finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds. And, for the first time all season, he appeared to be focused and engaged on the defensive end, finishing with two blocked shots. If head coach John Calipari can get Randle to put forth that effort every night, the team will be much better. As Willie Cauley-Stein was plagued by foul trouble, someone needed to step up and protect the rim and Randle, along with Poythress showed that he can do that.

James Young scored 23 points and added six rebounds by playing his most efficient game yet. From the tip, Young wasn’t just settling for long three pointers, which are always available, he put the ball on the floor and attacked the rim. When he finally gets a consistent mid-range jumper, he’s going to be even tougher to guard.

The Bad:

Turnovers and free throws.

It’s that plain. It’s that simple.  Now, do I think that Calipari doesn’t care about free throws? No, of course not. But it’s time that there’s more focus/practice time dedicated to them.  The Cats shot 26-40 from the free throw line (65%). On the road in the SEC, that simply will not get it done. Missing double digit free throws in single digit losses are not a trend that needs to continue. If Kentucky shoots just 75% from the free throw line, that’s 4 extra points and perhaps a Wildcat W. The turnovers are something

Jan 14, 2014; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard James Young (1) looses control of the ball as Arkansas Razorbacks forwardd Coty Clarke (4) looks on during the first half at Bud Walton Arena. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Anytime you play at Arkansas against that pressure defense, turnover are always a concern. However, early on, and for most of the game, the Kentucky turnovers were mostly unforced and borderline careless. Against the Razorbacks, Randle and Andrew Harrison had 5 turnovers a piece. Which might not be a big deal except Randle is the Cats best offensive weapon and Andrew is the point guard. In overtime,  Julius cavalierly inbounded the ball for a turnover and Andrew was called for a backcourt violation that resulted in another. And those plays simply cannot happen at any point of the game, but definitely not in overtime of a one possession game.

The Verdict:

The young Wildcats had some opportunities to let the game get away from them and they didn’t. They fought and scrapped when necessary. When Arkansas took a 9 point lead in the first half and threatened to pull away, Kentuccky went on a 10-0 run to regain the lead.  Andrew Harrison hit a huge three pointer to tie the game in regulation and send it overtime.  James Young, after Poythress’ man-sized rebound, hit a three pointer that tied the game in overtime and should have sent it to a second overtime. But, as this team has been plagued with all season, a mental breakdown by not blocking out, cost them the game. At Kentucky, we don’t do moral victories, but this was definitely a loss that Cats can build on. And with the bulk of the conference season ahead of them, they’ll have to.

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