Strong first half performance squandered as Kentucky drops 5th in a row to #22 North Carolina 75-63
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Did you ever think you would see the Kentucky Wildcats with a 1-5 record to start the season? Yeah, me neither. You have to go all the way back to the 1926-1927 season, which was only three years before legendary head coach Adolph Rupp’s arrival in Lexington. It’s hard to justify the 1-5 start to the season when the Wildcats have been in the position to win many of their games. They just aren’t getting it done and Saturday in the CBS Sports Classic against the North Carolina Tar Heels was no different.
Going with their same starting five as their previous game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Kentucky got off to an early 14-6 lead as Davion Mintz knocked down a pair of threes. The Cats held their own against the UNC bigs the best they could, but Isaiah Jackson and Olivier Sarr’s impacts were limited after both picking up two fouls in the 1st half. In their absence, Lance Ware was able to provide energy off of the bench as he fought for rebounds and finishes inside. Although Ware isn’t the first guy Head Coach John Calipari goes to every game, his presence and energy were definitely felt during his time on the floor. With a number of Cats scoring and contributing on both ends of the floor, Kentucky saw themselves up 38-34 at the break.
The 2nd half really showed the youth and inexperience of the Wildcats, which has plagued them all season. Sarr and Jackson both picked up their third fouls early on in the half, which saw Coach Cal go to Ware again, who was also in foul trouble early on. North Carolina bigs Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks were too dominant and physical inside, which saw the Cats fouling as a result. Freshman guard Caleb Love would also contribute 11 points for the Tar Heels. By the end of the game, Isaiah Jackson, Olivier Sarr, Lance Ware, and Terrence Clarke had all fouled out and they took their size and physicality with them. Armando Bacot scored 11 of his 14 points in the 2nd half and was a force in the paint. Once the Wildcats found themselves turning the ball over and committing simple fouls, the game was all but over.
Davion Mintz: 17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists
Brandon Boston Jr: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists
Devin Askew: 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists
Lance Ware: 4 points, 7 rebounds
Although the Cats seem to have gotten over their turnover problems, the last game showed that fouls would eventually catch up to them. When three of your starters all foul out in the same game, I’m not sure if that is poor officiating or a lack of discipline within Camp Cal. Put simple, fouls hurt the Cats and they dug themselves into a hole that they just couldn’t get out of.
Freshman forward Lance Ware was perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the game. Although he only finished with 4 points and fouled out, his 7 rebounds and high-energy were the two things that stood out to me. Look for Calipari to use Ware’s energy going forward as a key in Kentucky’s turnaround.
In the loss on Saturday, it was clear that some players were not happy with their playing time or the team's performance. Freshman Cam’Ron Fletcher was unhappy after playing only two minutes in the loss, and his emotions may have gotten the best of him. Coach Calipari has recently dismissed Fletcher from the team for some time in order for him to “do some soul searching to get his priorities in order.” Fletcher was apologetic to Big Blue Nation and has since taken responsibility for his actions. If anything, I think this just shows how much he cares about the team, and I believe many of our guys just want to get this train on the tracks as soon as possible.
Perhaps the biggest game and one that could determine the way this season goes is the biggest rivalry in college basketball (yeah, I said it), the Kentucky Wildcats vs the Louisville Cardinals. This game is one of the most important of the season, and hopefully this young team will realize this. The Cards are 4-1 after getting blown out by the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday. Nonetheless, the Battle of the Bluegrass will live up to the hype it should, and Kentucky looks to continue its dominance against its little brother. The Wildcats are 37-16 all-time against the Cards, and 11-2 since 2010. #LsDown #Catsby90
This game can be seen on ESPN2 at 12:00 PM on Dec. 26th.