Gonzaga’s frontcourt manhandled a young Kentucky team on Saturday night. The result was a tough-to-swallow 89-85 defeat at Rupp Arena.
The Bulldogs scored 50 of its 89 points in the paint and won the rebounding battle by 12. Fueled by 23 points on 10-17 shooting plus five rebounds from redshirt junior Graham Ike, Gonzaga had its way against Kentucky inside the arc. The ‘Zags shot 15-19 on layups and made all five of its dunk attempts. There was little to no resistance from UK’s skinny frontcourt trio of Aaron Bradshaw, Ugonna Onyenso, and Zvonimir Ivisic.
John Calipari saw it too. The head coach was rotating those three in and out of the lineup like a revolving door. None of the seven-footers saw extended stretches before getting pulled for another. Bradshaw simply couldn’t contain the 6-foot-9 Ike’s physicality while Onyenso and Ivisic looked genuinely lost on both ends of the court half the time.
That three-man center group for Kentucky finished the night with a combined 13 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Gonzaga’s 6-foot-8 forward Anton Watson posted 17 points and seven rebounds in 38 minutes all by himself. Even backup forward Braden Huff came in to find 12 points and three rebounds in just 15 minutes.
Kentucky sure could have used some extra fight from the bigs, but they’ve struggled with physicality all season long. The one guy who could have provided that was on the bench with a back injury that’s been bothering him for some time. His absence was clearly felt.
Fifth-year forward Tre Mitchell sat out his second consecutive game on Saturday. For anyone who saw his performance against Tennesse last week, it was clear that he’s not 100 percent. That became even more clear when he was ruled out of Kentucky’s 32-point win over Vanderbilt earlier this week. But UK didn’t need Mitchell to beat a bad Commodores team — they really needed him to take down a veteran group of Bulldogs though.
“He would have helped a lot. For sure,” Kentucky fifth-year guard Antonio Reeves said of Mitchell after the loss to Gonzaga. “His physicality, his big body down there, it moves a lot of pieces. And we really missed that. When he comes back, it’s definitely gonna be a lot of rebounding and physicality down there.”
Is Mitchell the strongest player in the world? No, especially not a roster that also includes Adou Thiero. But he’s a big body who knows how to be in the right position and do so without fouling (not to mention what he brings on offense). And speaking of Thiero, he seemed to be the only Wildcat willing to throw his body around against Gonzaga. Mitchell could have, at the very least, helped push around the likes of Ike and Watson, too.
“We spent a lot of time worrying about Tre Mitchell,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “Because he’s a tough matchup with his picking-and-popping and what he can do and if he gets a small guy in a mismatch. We caught a huge break there with him not playing.”
Kentucky will surely need Mitchell for the rest of the season. Get well soon, Tre.