No. 1 Kentucky’s second-half defense the difference in win over Providence

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Entering Sunday the Providence Friars were 6-0, and with senior forward LaDontae Henton leading the way there was optimism regarding their chances of competing with No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Henton, one of the most underrated players in the country, did a lot to discard that label as he averaged 24.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 56 percent from the field for the Friars during that six-game win streak.

Providence got off to a good start Sunday afternoon, making seven of their first ten field goal attempts and leading for a significant portion of the first half before a 7-2 Kentucky run gave the Wildcats a 26-22 lead at the intermission. Unfortunately for Providence that run carried over into the second half, as the defensive commitment of John Calipari’s team led to a competitive game turning into a 58-38 Wildcat victory.

And while Kentucky was nowhere near its best on the offensive end, the Wildcats were dominant defensively outside of the opening run of success the Friars enjoyed.

Henton finished the game with three points on 1-for-8 shooting and while his afternoon was made difficult by the Kentucky front court, teammate Kris Dunn endured a far worse afternoon at Rupp Arena. Dunn, who entered the game averaging 6.7 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5, finished the game with six points, three assists and a career-worst ten turnovers.

Kentucky’s guards, especially freshman Tyler Ulis, kept the heat on Dunn throughout the game with seven of those turnovers being committed in the first half. Much has been made of what Kentucky’s depth can do to teams offensively, as they boast a plethora of options despite lacking a prototypical small forward, but it can be just as lethal on the other end of the floor.

Providence managed to shoot just 28.2% from the field overall, making four of their 24 field goal attempts in the second half. To put Kentucky’s defensive performance into perspective, the Wildcats scored as many points in the paint (38) as the Friars did in 40 minutes. Did Providence miss some shots they’d connected on in their first six games? Yes, but the bigger issue was their inability to find quality looks as the game progressed.

Both teams will get better as the season wears on. Henton and Dunn won’t struggle as they did on Sunday, and as a team Ed Cooley’s guys will take the lessons learned Sunday and apply them to future games. And the same can be said for Kentucky, whose second unit combined to shoot 7-for-19 from the field and as a team they didn’t shoot well from three (2-for-7) or from the foul line (8-for-17) either.

Any team can have an off day offensively, but the really good teams don’t allow their production to waver on the other end of the floor.