Kentucky was without Quade Green for the third straight game on a night the whistle wouldn’t stop blowing, but there is no excuse for their 76-68 loss to South Carolina.
The Cats led the Gamecocks by 14 points with 11:34 left, but after a dumb foul by Hamidou Diallo, they absolutely fell apart. The weaknesses we’ve seen in spurts became Kentucky’s defining characteristics in the final minutes: no defense, no rebounding, poor free throw shooting, and even poorer decision making. It’s late and we’re all angry, so let’s go over it and call it a night.
Jarred Vanderbilt made his debut
On any other night, Vanderbilt’s first game back would be the leading story. The versatile freshman forward made his much-anticipated debut at the 13:09 mark, and after he worked off the nerves, showed just how important he could be to this squad. Vanderbilt’s passing, effort, and rebounding were a breath of fresh air on a night Kentucky was once again without Quade Green. He finished with six points, five rebounds, three assists, and one block in 14 minutes. Not bad for his first game action since last April. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save Kentucky from itself.
All of the fouls
Tonight’s game took almost two and a half hours thanks to the 59 fouls called throughout; Kentucky accounted for 32 of those, the most in a non-overtime game since January 14, 1997 per Corey Price. Between the two teams, 64 free throws were taken, the most in any SEC game this season. Three Kentucky players fouled out and three players played with four fouls in the crucial closing minutes.
Again, no excuse. The difference in the game? South Carolina hit 73.7% (14-19) of their free throws in the second half, whereas Kentucky only hit 42.9% (6-14). Can’t win close games when you’re doing that.
Hamidou Diallo was the most frustrating of all
More often than not, the reason the Gamecocks were at the line late was a stupid decision on Kentucky’s part. The most egregious error of all came from Hamidou Diallo, who was whistled for an intentional foul when UK was up 14 with 11:29 left. From there, South Carolina went on a 12-3 run. As you might imagine, Calipari came back to that moment a few times in his postgame remarks.
“We got up 14, had the ball. PJ [Washington] throws a cross court pass — not what we were trying to do. That’s not what we called. Hami fouls intentionally. ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.’ You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants. ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.’ You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants. So don’t say that. You did it.”
Hami didn’t do himself any favors talking back to Calipari on his way to the bench, either. Both Kevin Knox and Calipari said certain guys were “doing their own thing” tonight, and it’s not hard to figure out who they’re talking about. From ball-hogging to bad decisions, Hamibout to be in the dog house.
Kentucky had no answer for Chris Silva
South Carolina’s big man abused Kentucky on the inside tonight, putting up 27 points and 8 rebounds in 35 minutes. As Calipari said, Silva manhandled everyone who tried to go against him, putting poor Wenyen Gabriel on a poster in the first half.
While Nick Richards played better tonight, putting up 12 points, Kentucky still lacks a dominant big man down low, which makes guys like Silva their kryptonite.
This team needs Quade back
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was able to man the ship for two games, but tonight, it was painfully clear this team needs Quade Green back soon. Running point in back-to-back games finally caught up with Shai, who scored only six points and committed six turnovers, five in the first half. The team’s best defender, Shai was a step slow tonight and got pressured into bad decisions by South Carolina’s swarming defense; however, as Calipari said afterwards, blowing a 14-point lead in the second half didn’t happen just because Quade was out.
“Basically, we played the whole game without a point guard,” Cal said. “But we had our chances to win anyways. That wasn’t it. There were balls we should have had rebounds. I’ve never seen so many dumb fouls. Grab a guy and pull his shirt out? Excuse me? Do you think this is lacrosse?”
Yeah, he’s really pissed about that foul.
Where do we go from here?
To borrow a line from Freddie Maggard, what does this all mean? Hopefully, tonight’s loss will be a wake up call for several players, most notably Hamidou Diallo. If you’re looking for silver linings, it showed us what Jarred Vanderbilt can bring to the table. Above all, it should serve as a much-needed reminder that this team is not above freshman mistakes; however, in a year in which no one is that good in college basketball, I don’t need to remind you of another dismal loss that happened at South Carolina almost four years ago. It’s still January, so I’m not closing the book just yet.
Also, Calipari’s never allowed to make a half-court shot ever again.