Five Takeaways From Kentucky's Great Escape Over Cleveland State - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Five Takeaways From Kentucky's Great Escape Over Cleveland State

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John Calipari's Kentucky team rallied in the final 7 1/2 minutes to defeat Cleveland State Monday. John Calipari's Kentucky team rallied in the final 7 1/2 minutes to defeat Cleveland State Monday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – This wasn't Baylor or even Texas A&M, the two teams that beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena last season. This was nearly worse.

This was Cleveland State, a team picked to finish seventh in the Horizon League by Athlon Sports.

This was Cleveland State, a team that did not start a single senior or a guy taller than 6 feet 8.

This was Cleveland State, a team whose two leading scorers were rated two-star recruits.

This was Cleveland State leading Kentucky by 10 points with a little more than 7 minutes to play in Rupp Arena Monday night.

No wonder that after Kentucky surged to win the game, 68-61, Cleveland State coach Gary Waters wrapped an arm around UK coach John Calipari and whispered this:

"You needed this more than I did," Waters said.

Ten minutes later, Waters smiled and explained his message.

"It doesn't look good for us to beat Kentucky," he said.

Waters was as right about that as he was with his control-tempo and make Kentucky shoot perimeter shots game plan. The visitors did not play great, shooting 35.6 percent and sending the Wildcats to the line for 35 free throws. But they played with poise and persistence.

"Let's be real," Calipari said. "Cleveland State took advantage of everything we did wrong."

In the end, Kentucky stopped doing things wrong. They only made three (of 14) three-point shots, but two came in the final 10 minutes. They outscored the Vikings 21-7 in the final 5 ½ minutes, getting 18 of those points from freshmen.

"I didn't want to lose," UK freshman James Young said. "I felt like if we lost then there would be a lot on our shoulders, like Michigan State. I just, for whatever reason, did not want to lose and did what I could to help our team win."

The victory was Kentucky's fifth in six games – a good transition to Five Takeaways from the victory:

1. Kentucky's perimeter defense needs work. Cleveland State's two-star guards outplayed Kentucky's McDonald's all-Americans. As a group, Bryn Forbes, Trey Lewis and Sebastian Douglas outscored Young and the Harrison Twins 50-32. Even worse, they outrebounded them 13-6.

It was more than just scoring and rebounding. They beat the Kentucky guards off the dribble, attacking the rim without fear. It wasn't always the smartest approach. Kentucky swatted away seven shots.

But Kentucky's perimeter defenders never made the Cleveland State guys uncomfortable. They're not pressuring people the way that Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague pressured people.

Not yet. 

UK was favored by 24. When did the Cleveland State players start believing they had a chance to deliver the upset?

"The whole game, from the beginning of the game," Lewis said. "At Cleveland State we come in with the mentality that we can play with anybody in the country.  We really believed we were going to win this game."

2. Control tempo. Double-team Julius Randle. Make Kentucky shoot the ball from more than 12 feet.

I'm not John Wooden or even Brad Stevens, but it's apparent how teams are going to play the Wildcats this season. By trying to stop Kentucky from running. By crowding Randle. And by making Kentucky score from outside the paint.

Most teams won't be able to do that. Kentucky has too many players who can attack the rim. Double-teaming Randle is a fine strategy to put on a chalkboard. Finding guys who can make it work requires more than a game plan.

But the Wildcats weren't able to attack the rim Monday night – and it showed. They missed 11 of 14 three-point shots as the Vikings dared them to take more than 14.

"Our game plan was to stay on the inside of them and make them take outside, contested shots," Lewis said.

The NCAA national statistical rankings show reason for concern. Kentucky ranks 207th in the country in three-point shooting percentage, making less than 32 percent. And the Wildcats are even less effective at the free-throw line. They rank 263rd, making 65.1 percent.

The Wildcats missed their first seven three-point shots Monday. This was the fourth time Kentucky has shot less than 32 percent from the three-point line.

3. Calipari continues to experiment with this team. He played nine guys in the first half, and it seemed as if he never stayed with the same combination for more than three minutes.

In. Out. Out. In.

He started five freshmen – again – and played two more (Dakari Johnson and Dominique Hawkins.

He tightened the rotation in the second half. Randle played 20 minutes as did Young. Willie Cauley-Stein earned 17 second-half minutes. Alex Poythress only got three and Marcus Lee 1.

4. Julius Randle is routinely ridiculous. He still turns the ball over too many times – five Monday night. Opposing coaches will continue to double team him until he proves that he will consistently make the right pass. His 15-foot shot needs more work.

But the kid delivered another double-double, his sixth in six games. Even on a night when Randle missed seven of 10 shots, he still scored 15 points with 15 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass.

"They got some offensive rebounds that were key down the stretch," Waters said. "They may be the best offensive rebounding team in the country.

"A close friend of mine is Tom Izzo. He works hard on rebounding the basketball. That's one of his identities. I'm telling you this team rebounds as good or better than Michigan State. It's hard to keep them off and it's more than one."

But mainly Julius Randle.

5. Last week I wondered about the quality of Louisville's non-conference schedule. It's fair to ask a similar question about the teams that Calipari has lined up to play his team.

Other than Michigan State, of course.

The combined record of the five teams that Kentucky has beaten is 10-19. Not one of those teams has a winning record.  Not one is ranked in the Top 150 in Ken Pomeroy's computer formula.

That's going to change. Kentucky will play Baylor in Dallas, at North Carolina and Louisville in Rupp Arena before the Wildcats begin play in the Southeastern Conference on Jan. 8 against Mississippi State.

Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.



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