CRAWFORD | Five takeaways on Kentucky's loss to Ohio State, and - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Five takeaways on Kentucky's loss to Ohio State, and looking ahead to Louisville

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John Calipari talks to Alex Poythress during Saturday's loss to Ohio State. (AP photo) John Calipari talks to Alex Poythress during Saturday's loss to Ohio State. (AP photo)

MIAMI (WDRB) — There are, according to college basketball stat cruncher extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy, only 10 teams in NCAA Division I basketball younger than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats.

On Saturday in New York, one of them beat Kentucky.

Thad Matta’s Ohio State team is off to a rough start. It lost back-to-back games at home to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, starting a four-game losing streak that would continue with Memphis and Virginia. A week ago, they lost at Connecticut by 20.

But on Saturday, drawing a line on the Barclays Center court, the young Buckeyes looked like the more motivated team. They got to the loose balls. They made shots they haven’t been making. They were the more physical team. And in the end, they knocked off the Wildcats 74-67, handing UK its second defeat in four games as it heads into a Christmas week break.

So what to make of this Kentucky team now? Jamal Murray single-handedly gave the Wildcats a chance, scoring 27 of his 33 points in the second half, but even that spectacular display couldn’t propel UK past a struggling Ohio State team.

Calipari said, “I want them to be farther along than they are, but we're where we are right now. . . . They're freshmen. They're going through this for the first time. They're learning what it takes to win. They're learning what it means to be tough. Tough doesn't mean you fight, you push, you swing. Tough means you play people before the play happens. Tough means, when you go in there and I have nothing, I'm not trying to make a fabulous play. I'm tough enough to know it's done. I'm throwing it back out. We're going to go again, which we did late. We did not early.”

Some takeaways from where the Wildcats stand heading into their holiday break.

1. THEY NEED MORE TEAMWORK. This just takes time. It takes chemistry. To me, it often feels like their shots come one or two passes too soon. The guards seem so anxious to get the ball and do something with it that they don’t exactly move the defense around and create cleaner seams through which to drive or pass.

A more efficient offensive start in this game — fewer wild shots, fewer turnovers — would’ve won it.

For my money, I’d rather see the ball in Tyler Ulis’ hands than anyone else’s early in games, when the Wildcats seem to have had the most trouble.

Even Ulis, however, has been a little off — particularly from deep. He’s got the sleeve on his elbow, then off it. I don’t think he’s likely 100 percent. And though Murray bailed the team out in the second half, that solution -- give it to Murray and everyone clear out -- isn't always going to work.

2. RIGHT NOW, THEY’RE BETTER OFF WITH LEE THAN LABBISIERE. There’s a reason Calipari likely is still starting the freshman Skal Labissiere over Marcus Lee — a couple of them, actually. First, Lee has found himself in foul trouble early in games, and the Wildcats are better off to keep him out of foul trouble for as long as possible. Second, Calipari wants to keep Labissiere’s confidence up.

Asked about his two-point, five-rebound performance in which he went 1-of-7 from the field, Calipari said, “I thought he made strides today. He’s pretty good.”

3. IT WASN'T ALL ABOUT YOUTH. At least, not in this game. Of the Ohio State players who saw action, only one, Jae’Sean Tate, was a junior. The rest were freshmen and sophomores (though Kam Williams is a redshirt sophomore).

Of the six players who saw double-digit minutes for UK, one is a senior and another a junior, and Ulis at point guard is a returning sophomore.

It’s less about inexperience than learning to play together, and figuring out what kind of team Calipari thinks this should be.

“These guys have just played basketball in the past. Now we've got to teach them how to win and what it means defensively, what it means rebounding the ball,” Calipari said. “I mean, late there were three, four rebounds. You bring that in, we're right there. We have our chance. You don't bring it in, they lay it in, and it's an and-one or whatever, and you don't have a chance to win. We fought in the second half and did some good things. We're a ways away. I've been saying it. I thought Skal was better today, but when the game got a little rough in the end, I just didn't want him to -- I just went with Alex and Marcus Lee.”

4. IT’S STILL NOT TIME TO PANIC. Not even close. Better to be struggling to fit talented pieces together than struggling to put non-talented pieces together.

But the big problem with this team is that it doens’t consistently keep opponents from scoring around the rim. It did a great job in stretches against Ohio State, but if you have guards with good size who can score, you can get points in the paint. If you have bigs who can score, you can get points in the paint. That’s the biggest contrast with Calipari’s really good Kentucky teams, and something that has to change if this is to be one of them. This team needs to be much tougher to score against around the rim.

You can’t just shoot jump shots. And you can’t just drive into the paint recklessly and throw up wild shots. All of these things are evidence of a team that just hasn’t figured things out yet — and you’re not supposed to have it all figured out the week before Christmas.

5. WHAT ABOUT LOUISVILLE? It’s a far more interesting game than anyone figured it would be heading into the season. Here’s the thing. What about UCLA bothered Kentucky? It’s length and offensive efficiency. Louisville is just as long as UCLA, maybe a bit deeper, and just as good offensively. In a rare switch, it appears U of L might not be a great matchup for Kentucky this year. And those two graduate seniors Louisville is playing have given the team an important element of stability.

But the game is in Rupp Arena. This Kentucky team will be focused. It’s competitive juices should be flowing — something we may not have seen completely since the win over Duke. 

Will it be rusty? Calipari is sending his players home for a Christmas break before bringing them back to practice before facing Louisville. 

Louisville will stay in something of a rhythm, playing two games this week, and continuing a daily practice scheudle, until taking a break after the Kentucky game.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Louisville earn a victory in Rupp Arena — but I’m not going to pick that to happen, not until the Cardinals convince me that they can do it, taking Kentucky’s best shot. I expect UK will be a slight favorite — especially considering the injury to Mangok Mathiang, who is an important player to Louisville.

But if the Wildcats aren’t a little more than slightly better next Saturday than they were today, they won’t continue their streak in that series.

“I would say that I know this: We're not as good as we were a year ago,” Calipari said. “It's pretty obvious. I still think we have a good enough team to do some good things.”

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