A few brief notes on an absolutely disappointing loss in Tuscaloosa...
- As is the case with every loss, there was no shortage of talking points and topics of debate, though none burned hotter than Calipari's verbal thrashing of Terrence Jones
, which was captured by ESPN cameras. For casual observers, the sight of Cal unleashing on Jones late in a game where he was the leading scorer and rebounder and had scored several late baskets seemed odd. But, to those who have listened to Calipari the past week or so, it was a public climax of building frustrations centered around Jones' resistance to pass the ball to his teammates and force his offensive looks. While Jones was scoring late in the game, he was also missing open teammates and essentially letting the offensive rhythm die when he touched the ball, while also giving up points on the defensive end. After the game, Calipari apologized through his Twitter account for his public outburst, but it's tough to see his stance changing anytime soon. There's a fine line between being aggressive and being selfish and Jones is having difficulty differentiating between the two.
- After the game, Calipari was obviously not pleased in the least with his team's performance and decided to alter Wednesday's plans, which was set to be an off day. "We're going to practice. Its' going to be brutal,"
Cal said. He offered no apologies for that.
- One of the questions that continues to linger with this latest loss is why this team has trouble playing on the road. The Cats are now 2-3 in games officially deemed road games
this season, with one of those wins coming in Portland. The biggest problem in Alabama seemed to be the same thing that plagued them in Georgia and that was the inability to take the crowd out of the game and finding someone to go to when they needed a bucket. As Calipari has said hundreds of times, it's going to be the Super Bowl for every team that welcomes Kentucky into the arena and the Cats have to treat it with the same focus and fire as their opponents. The Cats let an Alabama team that scores their buckets with athleticism and hustle to out-work them early and turn offensive boards and missed assignments into dunks, which kept the Alabama crowd fired up for what will probably be the only time this season. With three out of the next four on the road, with a home game with Georgia mixed in the middle, Kentucky is going to have to find that level of comfort away from Rupp through consistency and by not getting out-played in the first half. Comebacks on the road in conference play are hard to come by, especially for young teams. They can't afford to keep putting themselves in those situations.
- Along that same line, the Cats continue to allow bad plays to snowball into multiple poor possessions in a row. Earlier this year, Mark Krebs spoke on KSTV about the inability to follow a bad play with a good one
and how Coach Cal preached the importance of bouncing back after a bad possession to last year's group. This season, they can't seem to wipe the slate clean and get back on track until they've let an opponent make a run. Against teams like Alabama, who feed off of emotion, the inability to respond positively to mistakes are doubly important. A big part of the struggles in this area goes back to what was mentioned earlier - the lack of a go-to guy when your back is against the wall. Brandon Knight is the best option in that situation and he was off his game in Tuscaloosa. Terrence Jones is the guy who you want to be that next option, but his continued struggles as guy who can make plays leaves Kentucky just running around looking to make a play. Against good teams, which Alabama is certainly not, the Cats have to have that. Against good teams on the road, especially, it's a must. It's easy to say that someone needs to step up when Knight is off, but this team just might not have one of those guys on the roster. And it hurts.
- With all of that being said, the comeback push in the second half was commendable
. The Cats were helped quite a bit by Alabama's true character emerging in the second half as they found difficulty in putting the ball in the basket and played like the team that is expected to finish near the bottom of the conference. But, to their credit, they started making hustle plays too. Just as every loose ball seemed to go to the Tide in the first half, the ball seemed to bounce to the Cats in the final 20 minutes and the ones that didn't, they went out and grabbed. If that effort was on display for the full 40 minutes, this game isn't close.
- That being said, Kentucky failed miserably at closing out the game
after they fought so hard to get back within striking distance. The Brandon Knight charge was questionable, but UK responded with a "winning play" on the following possession as DeAndre Liggins took a charge of his own. Then, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb fumbled the handoff with a chance to win the game on the line, slamming the door shut on a potential comeback. That lack of execution, along with seven missed free throws in the second hal, left Kentucky looking "young" in the most negative sense of the word. Good teams close out those games, even on the road. This Kentucky team appears to still be looking to take that step.
- It's hard to think that Tuesday night could have been worse for Eloy Vargas
. We could break it down with each painful play that he crammed into about 2 minutes of work, but this picture is worth at least 5,000 words:
That's it for now. We'll be back shortly to get things going again in the right direction. Just don't jump. As usual, the fun will start to creep back into things at 10am with Kentucky Sports Radio on Talk Radio 1080
. Make sure you stick around. See you in a few...