By Ken Cross
There’s nothing wrong with youthful exuberance, but the youth of the Kentucky Wildcats may be catching up with them in the tough SEC.
It goes beyond Tuesday night’s 75-68 loss to South Carolina where the Wildcats led 57-43 with 11:30 to play. They had a flagrant one foul on Hamidou Diallo at that point. He literally took South Carolina forward Maik Kotsar’s jersey out of his shorts after a steal and then when rightfully berated by Coach John Calipari, he insisted that he didn’t do anything.
“It’s another great example of we don’t know how to close games,” said forward Kevin Knox, who played 39 minutes and led Kentucky with 21 points and eight rebounds, “We were up 14 and the intentional foul happened and that kind of changed the whole complexion of the game.”
. @UKCoachCalipari : Closing out games is more of a mentality than anything else
— UK Sports Network (@UKSportsNetwork) January 17, 2018
This is the tip of the iceberg with these Wildcats. They are talented, but the youngest team in the nation, and the chemistry hasn’t gelled as readily as most of John Calipari’s past teams.
A leader hasn’t consistently emerged and it showed on Tuesday as the Wildcats turned the ball over 16 times and yielded 15 points. In addition, Quade Green was missing on the point. Shai Gilgeous-Aleaxander stepped in on the point, but had no consistency in 28 minutes. He was 3-of-9 from the field, but what was a major problem for the Wildcats was his ball handling as he had zero assists, but six turnovers.
“Basically, we played the whole game without a point guard, and when we put him in, he wasn’t very good,” noted Calipari.
To be fair to Gilgeous-Alexander in the two previous wins over Vandy and Texas A&M, he was a combined 13-of-22 with 11 boards and 11 assists in netting 16 points in the win over the Aggies and 22 in the squeaker at Vandy. Kentucky probably doesn’t win either of those as he was steady in playing 39 minutes in each game.
Calipari was also agitated with the fouls, not the referees. He thought the Wildcats’ fouls were questionable from the players’ points of view. Kentucky committed 32 and the Gamecocks were 25-of-38 from the line.
The game was over officiated though by the crew of Jamie Luckie, Keith Kimble, and Joe Lindsay. They whistled 59 combined fouls which yielded a combined 74 attempts. There was no fluidity in the game which potentially favor the more physical Gamecocks.
“This game was ours and all we had to do was grab it,” said Calipari, “The other games were close and we were never up big. It was a different situation for them. We were up and now let’s finish the game.”
Knox, who seems more tuned in to the process and what Calipari is preaching, summarized exactly what needs to happen for the Wildcats.
“Like Coach Cal told us you get into the game you’re up 14, the game’s over and you try to do your own thing,” he explained, “Like Cal says instead of getting the win to 20 and getting the win and go home, we try to do our own thing and they get back into it – not listening and people trying to get their own baskets. We have to stick together as a team, listen to coach and we will do fine.”