It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world, but UK got it done. Alabama did a good job of slowing down the tempo, forcing Kentucky into halfcourt sets and getting them away from their much-preferred fastbreak style of play. This is something that UK is going to see much more of as we get closer to tournament time, and, to be honest, it worries me little a bit. If you can keep the final score of UK’s games in the sixties, they becomes infinitely more beatable. Calipari’s dribble-drive isn’t as potent when the defense has a chance to get set, and Kentucky, despite shooting a respectable percentage from 3, isn’t an outside shooting team. They’re slashers. And with the slashing comes collapsing defenses, which leads to guys left alone on the perimeter, which leads to kickouts, which leads to open perimeter shots, which helps explain how we’ve been able to keep our 3-PT% hovering around the 40% mark (it’s currently at 38) for the season. In short, Kentucky’s shooting is very much dependent on their ability to slash. Which is why when you force John Wall and Eric Bledsoe to create in a slowed-down, halfcourt set, the whole team has a tougher time hitting shots. They turn the ball over more (Bledsoe and Wall combined for nine tonight) and shoot more contested perimeter shots (the same two combined to go 1-for-6 from 3 tonight), which, more times than not, doesn’t bode well for Kentucky.
But I don’t want to be a negative Nancy about the game tonight. We won. And at times even looked fairly sharp. The good stuff:
– John Wall broke out of his scoring funk by going for 22 tonight on 7-of-13 shooting. He also pulled down ten rebounds, knocked down one trey, had three steals, dished out two assists, and blocked a shot in 22 minutes of action. Putting up a line like that is one of the few ways to make a seven turnover performance look impressive. Calipari had this to say about Wall’s play afterward:
“John Wall in the first half had turnovers. He lost three balls or four that were turnovers that weren’t even forced. In the second half, he played. He ran our team. We were grinding it out at times, which we have to learn to do and I was happy we were able to do.”
Wall said the following regarding his own performance:
“I was not being strong with the ball like I am supposed to. That is one of the key things that I need to work on more and not turn the ball over much. That is what I did in the first half today.”
– DeMarcus Cousins put up pedestrian numbers tonight by his standards: 16 points and 13 rebounds, 5 of which were offensive. All of that despite the fact that Kentucky didn’t go to Cousins they way they’ve been going to him over the past few games. After the game, Calipari said that, “…we weren’t throwing the ball to DeMarcus enough in the first half and I was going nuts…” which is completely understandable given the way he’s dominated of late. As tough as he’s been for us over the past few weeks, I could see him stepping up even more as teams start trying to slow Kentucky down. He’s our most effective scorer in a halfcourt set. And he’s also our best player. I’m sorry, but the Who’s more valuable? Wall or Orton right now?-argument is so one-sided it’s ridiculous. Wall’s a transcendent talent, and he deserves to go number one in this June’s draft, but Cousins is the better college player right now. Without him, Kentucky loses its most consistent and effective offensive player.
– One of my favorite guys, Daniel Orton, had a nice game for Kentucky tonight. His impact doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score the way Wall’s or Cousins’ does (he had a modest three points, two rebounds, and a block), but he brought great energy off the bench and came up with a huge and-one when we really needed a bucket. Calipari singled Orton’s effort out after the game:
“I thought Daniel was fabulous today, absolutely fabulous. I just wanted somebody to mix it up and Daniel (Orton) did it. He got rebounds. He got the and-one. He blocked a shot. Think about it, Daniel Orton is the reason we won. If I didn’t go with him, that game could have been 58-55 in a hurry. That’s what I told him after the game. Is there any secret that we have to play DeMarcus Cousins? That’s not a secret. We have to play him. He’s a beast. But Daniel Orton deserves to play. I just have to figure out how we play him. The more he gets on the floor, the more you are going to see parts of his game you didn’t realize.”
– I’m not even going to say anything about Darius Miller.
That’s all for tonight. I hope to have more for you tomorrow regarding the rest of this Kentucky team’s NBA potential.