Kentucky Struggles Continue in Loss to Kansas

Malik Monk with drive against Kansas - Photo by Brendon Miller
Malik Monk with drive against Kansas – Photo by Brendon Miller

Cats’ weakness exposed again in 79-73 loss to Kansas.  The Wildcats have struggled this season when teams either pack in their defense or go to a zone.  Kentucky raced out to a 12-point lead early in the first half this past Saturday, but sloppy play when Kansas went into a zone at the end of the half allowed the Jayhawks to close within five points (32-27) at the break.  The Cats failure to close out the first half with a strong run allowed Kansas to gain some momentum and carry it over into the second half for their win.

It was only the fourth time Kentucky has lost a game after leading by as much as 10 points under Coach John Calipari and it is the first time the Wildcats have lost to a non-conference opponent when leading by as much 10-points in the Cal era.

This game exposed the Cats biggest weakness.  Kentucky has had their struggles against a zone defense, but that is only part of it.  The biggest concern may be the way the Wildcats attacked the zone.  It was a disturbing sight, as the young Cats would pass up open jump shots to force the ball into the middle of the defense which created several of their 17 turnovers.  Bam Adebayo really struggled with the zone defense; he was only 3-7 from the field and made only four of his ten of his free throws.  Fellow freshmen DeAaron Fox and Malik Monk started the game playing well, but both struggled in the second half, as they seemed to be confused on what to do in order to attack the Kansas zone.

Kentucky had been leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game until the last two contests, but 17 turnovers against Kansas led to 21 points for the visitors, this explains the lost.  Giving the ball away, especially when it is unforced will always cause problems.

Despite a bad game by most, there was one bright spot on the day.   Senior Derek Willis had his best game of the season going for a team leading 18 points, Willis was 6 for 7 from the field and a red hot 5 of 6 from behind the three-point line.  The rest of the team just couldn’t match Derek’s confidence.

Another bright spot was the fan base.  The rowdy Rupp crowd was at the top of their game, setting a world record for crowd noise in an arena.  Kentucky has traditionally won these big games at Rupp, but this is the second game this season (UCLA being the other), that Kentucky has lost.  If nothing else that should be a concern for the Big Blue Nation.  Cats have yet to show an ability to make a strong comeback in a close game.  

The season is far from over, but if the Cats plan on contending for a championship, they will have to solve their struggles against a zone.  Only time will tell.