Friday, December 12, 2014

Kentucky 56 - 46 Columbia (No. 2,150)

This is the 40th year in which I have followed Kentucky basketball.  Here is a complete list of the UK teams during that stretch that started off 10-0:

1977-78 Kentucky (Started 14-0; finished 30-2; won National Championship)
1983-84 Kentucky (Started 12-0; finished 29-5; went to Final Four)
1987-88 Kentucky (Started 10-0; finished 25-5; went to Sweet 16)
1992-93 Kentucky (Started 11-0; finished 30-4; went to Final Four)
2009-10 Kentucky (Started 19-0; finished 35-3; went to Elite Eight)
2013-14 Kentucky (10-0 so far)

So this is only the sixth 10-0 start in the last 40 years, and the other five teams all turned out to be pretty good -- three of them reached the Final Four.  Unfortunately, because of Alex Poythress's injury, we will never know for sure what this year's team could have done, because the team that won those first 10 games no longer exists.

In fact, Kentucky wasn't able to field its regular line-up even in this game -- Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, two freshman who have been vital components on UK's second platoon, were out.  The resulting UK team looked very much like last year's team -- and like last year's team, their performance was somewhat inconsistent.

In fact, the Cats started off by falling behind 11-0 to a Columbia team that was holding the ball deep into the shot clock almost every time.  The Cats continue to suffer from woeful outside shooting (they went 2-17 from three-point range in this game), which made it difficult for them to break down Columbia's defense.  With 10 minutes to go in the first half, the Cats still trailed 17-9.  At halftime, Columbia led 25-23.  But finally, the Cats went back to the offensive formula that worked in last year's tournament -- they simply shot the ball and then went after the rebound.  UK finished with 21 offensive rebounds and 20 defensive rebounds -- you won't see too many games where a team gets more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds.  Many of those rebounds led to put-backs.  Meanwhile, UK's defense patiently held up through one long Columbia possession after another.

Slowly the Cats pulled away.  They led 42-37 with 10 minutes to go, and eventually built their lead up to 56-41 before allowing a few baskets at the end.

When it was all over, the big headline was that Columbia had given a scare to the big, bad Wildcats.  But after spotting Columbia the first 11 points, UK outscored the Lions 56-30 -- despite having to play Columbia's pokey style.

After the game, Cal talked about UK's problems on offense.  To me, the Cats only have one problem on offense -- they aren't shooting well.  They are now 305th in three-point shooting percentage, and are making only 27.7 percent of their three's.  But despite this fact, UK still has the fourth-most efficient offense in the country, in large part because the Cats are getting so many offensive rebounds.

One big reason the Cats haven't scored very much is that they are playing at a very slow pace -- the 222d fastest in the country.  The game with Columbia featured only 51 possessions, an absurdly low number.  It's not UK's fault -- the Cats average length of possession is 43d in the country, which makes sense, given that the Cats have been pushing the ball almost every time they get it.  On the other hand, the average length of possession for UK's opponents is 345th in the country, as almost everyone tries to hold the ball.

Anyway, while these statistics are very interesting, they don't mean much now -- the Cats will have to take a new approach without Poythress.  I don't know, for example, if the platoon system will be viable anymore, or whether the Cats will be able to play with the same intensity on defense.  Whatever happens, I will keep watching and hoping.  But it will get much harder from here.

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