CRAWFORD | Front-line frustration: 7 takeaways from Kentucky's 85-67 loss at LSU
Kentucky coach John Calipari called Kentucky's 18-point loss at LSU a "wake-up call for the front line." Eric Crawford shares his own takeaways.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — It’s not the loss, or the margin, really, that is worrisome about the University of Kentucky’s 85-67 defeat at LSU Tuesday night.
It was the lethargy. It was LSU getting to loose balls and what seemed like every contested rebound. It was the Tigers outrebounding Kentucky by 14 and outscoring the Wildcats 44-24 in the paint.
It wasn’t Ben Simmons going crazy against Kentucky. In fact, he didn’t. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds. He’s the real deal. He also played for only nine minutes in the first half and LSU still led by 10 at the break.
The finish was a stunning scene. Kentucky, which had not lost to an SEC team since the 2014 SEC Tournament championship, watched LSU coach Johnny Jones empty his bench.
After Kentucky pulled within four points with just over nine minutes to play, LSU outscored the Wildcats 27-13 the rest of the way, and made six of its final seven shots.
“We got it down to four or six and we’re ready to win,” UK coach John Calipari said on his postgame show with Tom Leach via IMG Sports. “Now where are the winning plays?”
Calipari also called the game, “a wake-up call for our front line. It’s not about anybody else.”
What does it all mean? Was it just a bad night or a warning sign? Here are five takeaways.
1. KENTUCKY ISN’T STRONG INSIDE, BUT ISN’T AS BAD AS IT PLAYED AGAINST LSU. It can’t be. Right? Marcus Lee played five minutes and fouled out. I’m no Ken Pomeroy, but that’s not an efficient line. Shortly after Lee left the game, Alex Poythress fouled out with four points, four rebounds, three turnovers and three missed free throws (in three attempts) in 26 minutes.
Skal Labissiere was not a factor. Isaac Humphries didn’t score and grabbed one rebound in seven minutes played. Derek Willis made a couple of threes but did little else.
“Our fours and fives, we got killed,” Calipari said. “Alex and Marcus Lee and Skal and Derek Willis, , absolutely murdered. And we’re not good enough when that happens. (Poythress and Lee) basically fouled out giving you nothing.”
Put simply, as the team's most experienced players, Poythress and Lee have to play not just better, but smarter. Kentucky doesn't have the frontcourt depth it has had in the past. Early foul trouble from these two is going to be a problem anytime it happens this season.
And it wasn’t just the lack of scoring and rebounding. Calipari couldn’t find a serviceable screener at the top of the offense, which meant LSU was free to jump the guards with double-teams, producing several steals that led to some of the Tigers’ 22 points off turnovers.
“We weren’t setting a good screen,” Calipari said in his postgame radio interview with Leach. “That was the biggest issue, that’s why I took Skal out at the end. I told him, you haven’t set one screen. Two guys were playing the (ballhandler), because I didn’t set a screen. So the guard played him, and the big. It’s something we were working on for five days, but you get on the road, you get hyped, and the other team plays harder than we played, and that’s what you get.”
2. AFTER THE GAME, THE GUARDS GOT AFTER THE FRONT-LINE PLAYERS. Calipari told Leach that there was a frank discussion.
“I was happy that a couple of the guards said some stuff after the game,” Calipari said. “It’s better not coming from me. You’ve got to have courage and go play. . . . You’ve either got to play or let somebody else play, and that’s how it is. I told Isaac and Tai (Wynyard) afterward, earn minutes in practice and I’ll play you. You’ve got to be able to rebound. If you can’t come up with a rebound and you played 12 minutes, and you’re next to the basket, think about it. Come on now.”
3. TYLER ULIS AND JAMAL MURRAY WERE GOOD, BUT THEY NEED HELP. Ulis carried Kentucky in the first half and finished with 23 points and six assists. Murray heated up in the second half, got the Wildcats back into the game, and finished with 21 points.
Calipari praised Ulis and said Murray is improving, though he still is “messing around with the ball too much instead of going to the rim.”
But Isaiah Briscoe struggled. When he wasn’t taking ill-advised jump shots (he went 2-6 from the field) he was missing free throws after drives to the basket (1 for 7). Kentucky needs his defense and rebounding, but the free-throws may begin to keep him off the court.
4. MULDER WAS A BRIGHT SPOT. The 6-4 junior guard from Canada by way of Vincennes University played just 14 minutes but was Kentucky’s leading rebounder with eight, and added five points.
“He had an opportunity, got in there and rebounded the ball and did some good things and showed his athleticism,” Calipari said.
5. STARS OF THE GAME. ESPN interviewed Simmons after the game, and it’s to be expected. He’s the future No. 1 draft pick, and he’s the guy everyone is interested in him. But ESPN’s over the top selling of Simmons is grating. At one point during a timeout while Simmons was on the bench with two fouls in the first half, an ESPN studio host started chanting, “We want Ben! We want Ben!” It’d be nice if they toned it down.
Simmons, truthfully, is deserving of hype. But Tuesday night, LSU guard Tim Quarterman was outstanding, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. And Craig Victor II had 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Three LSU players rebounding in double digits, and the Tigers shot 49.2 percent for the game.
6. CALIPARI’S FINAL TAKE. In concluding with Leach, Calipari said: “We played awful, let’s get better. It’s pretty simple. We had some guys that didn’t compete, didn’t want to fight, didn’t want to battle, just want to play. Well, you picked the wrong school for that, because every team we play, they’re coming out fighting and battling, and you’ve got to be that guy. And we didn’t. And it’s a shame for some of the guys because this was a big game where people were going to evaluate what they were and what we were, and not a good result. But it’s early enough in the season, we can do some stuff. We’ll get better. We’ve got no choice.”
7. NEXT UP. The Wildcats visit Alabama (9-3) at 6 p.m. Saturday, before returning home to play Mississippi State next Tuesday.
FINAL STATS (click to enlarge)
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