Following down to the wire loss against Notre Dame, Covid-19 forces Kentucky to switch game plan from UCLA to UNC
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The University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball team is 1-4.
This is a statement Big Blue Nation never thought it would hear. Interestingly enough, the Wildcats have something to be excited about despite the 4-game losing streak. The Cats played with something that many people thought they would never play with: Heart.
UK vs ND Recap
This past Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky was looking to avoid a 4-game skid in the early days of their 2020-2021 season as they took on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Although Kentucky fought hard in the second half, they would drop the contest 64-63.
With Creighton transfer Davion Mintz starting in place of the struggling Devin Askew, I was certain the Wildcats would shake off their bad habits which include turnovers, poor 3-point shooting, and a lack of aggression. Boy was I wrong. After trailing only 14-9 in the beginning of the first half, Notre Dame caught fire and we were so cold that Antarctica would feel better. The Irish went on a 19-0 run and were looking to run away with the game, which they essentially did as they led 48-26 at half. ND could not miss from 3-point range as they went 6-for-11, and the Cats tried to answer back with 3’s of their own, but shot a dismal 1-for-13. Notre Dame junior Nate Laszewski scored 19 of his 21 points in the first half and was the spark to the Notre Dame offense. We settled for shots, let ND score 15 off of our 6 turnovers, and our bigs played “softer than Charmin” as Kobe Bryant once said. #RIPMamba
The Wildcats trailed the Irish by 22 points starting the 2nd half, the largest halftime deficit at home in the history of Kentucky’s storied program. Many thought the game was over, including Notre Dame. This was not the case. The Wildcats played with heart, aggression, and true passion. Using our size, we attacked the rim, fought hard for rebounds, and clawed our way back with a 16-0 run. With 7:34 left in the game, the Cats cut the score down 53-49 following the long-awaited fight everyone has been looking for out of the Cats. Senior Olivier Sarr had a huge 2nd half and a shot at the buzzer to win the game that was just off the mark.
Despite the loss, it was truly a tale of two halves. Notre Dame couldn’t miss in the first half as UK got punched in the mouth yet again, but the Cats didn’t go down without a fight in the end and I was on the edge of my seat until the final play. Prior to Saturday’s performance, the Wildcats played with absolutely zero heart or fight, but this showed Big Blue Nation that there is something there. But 1-4 is 1-4, no matter how you look at it.
Olivier Sarr: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks
Brandon Boston Jr: 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Terrence Clarke: 14 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists
The CBS Sports Classic now sees Kentucky facing the North Carolina Tar Heels instead of the UCLA Bruins. This change is in accordance with Covid-19 protocols, but the mindset for the Wildcats should be no different as they face a familiar out of conference foe. The most recent meeting between the two bluebloods of college basketball came on Dec. 12, 2018 seeing UK beat the Tar Heels 80-72. Coming in at #22 in the polls, UNC has seen similar freshman struggles much like the Cats, but they have found ways to win games. The Tar Heels (4-2) score a lot of points, but also give up a bunch. I am hoping the Cats will come out with that fire and heart inside of them that they showed against Notre Dame in the 2nd half.
UNC has 4 players averaging double figures in points, but nobody has emerged as their go-to guy. Caleb Love has been a bright spot for the Tar Heels so look to see him running the show. Similarly, Kentucky have seen promising yet inconsistent scoring games from Brandon Boston Jr. and Terrence Clarke, but look for one of these two men to step up in Saturday’s contest. The Cats will need to be aggressive early, crash the boards, and play team defense against the Tar Heels in order to get the win.
ESPN gives Kentucky just a 36.5% chance to win the ball game, which will only add fuel to the flame for Head Coach John Calipari’s side. Coach Cal believes that although the Cats are 1-4, their early season struggles will make them tougher, more mature, and hopefully come with lessons along the way to a successful year. A win this Saturday could be a small step in the right direction during this young 2020-2021 season for Kentucky.
UCLA was Kentucky’s initial opponent, but they will now be facing Ohio State instead. The UK-UNC game can be watched on CBS at 2:00 PM on Saturday Dec. 19th.
KSN’s Expert Picks
Grayson Harmon UK 74 UNC 69
@Sidelines_UK UK 64 UNC 62
@SidelinesUNC UNC 68 UK 63