Film Room: What went wrong for Kentucky against Evansville?

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We’re going to take a deep dive into Kentucky and what happened against Evansville in this space today, and we’re going to have a larger conversation about what, exactly, is going on in Lexington right now and how the No. 1 ranked team in the country can go out and lose a home game to a team that was picked eighth in the Missouri Valley.

I promise.

We’re going to get into that.

Every little bit of it.

But at the heart of the issue, the biggest problem that Kentucky is currently facing as we sit here today, on November 13th, in the year of our lord 2019, is that their players just aren’t good enough.

I know that sounds simplistic, and I know that we are only now just entering the second week of a five-month long season, and I know that Coach Cal’s teams tend to improve throughout the year.

Trust me.

I know.

There’s plenty of room for Kentucky to improve, and very specific areas that could end up solving some of these problems.

But the simple truth is that, as of today, Kentucky just is no where near good enough.

Here’s why:



It starts with the backcourt. Typically, John Calipari has had an elite, dynamic lead guard to build things around, but he just does not have that guy this year. Ashton Hagans has not yet taken that leap on the offensive end of the floor. As good as Tyrese Maxey has been in flashes, he’s still a 6-foot-3 combo-guard that’s shooting 30.3 percent from three with four assists and seven turnovers on the season. It looks like head coach John Calipari is trying to mold Immanuel Quickley to play the role that Tyler Herro, Kevin Knox, Malik Monk and Jamal Murray have played for him in the past, but he’s not the shooter – or, to be frank, near as talented – as those four.

But Kentucky doesn’t have a dynamic scorer on the wing, either. Kahlil Whitney has made a few threes, but beyond that, he hasn’t done all that much offensively. Keion Brooks shows some flashes, but he’s as raw as a frozen hamburger patty. Johnny Juzang just isn’t ready for this level.

In the past, when this has been the case, Kentucky has had a behemoth on the block to throw the ball into. Nick Richards is not that. Not even close. E.J. Montgomery is fine, but he’s been banged up and ineffective thus far as a collegian. Nate Sestina is useful in matchups where he won’t have to guard on the perimeter, but on Tuesday night he had to guard on the perimeter. He got lit up defensively and could not overpower a smaller defender on the other end of the floor. He was a net negative.

Those frontcourt issues are compounded by the fact that Kentucky has typically relied quite heavily on second chance points. In John Calipari’s tenure with the Wildcats, he’s never had a team grab fewer than 32.9 percent of their own misses and only three times has had a team finish outside the top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage. This year’s group currently ranks 212th, getting just 26 percent of their own misses. Small sample sizes and all that, but when you see the only 7-footer Kentucky has on the roster and their starting center do things like this against a team from the bottom of the Missouri Valley, you get worried.

Put another way, I think that fundamentally, Kentucky’s roster is flawed based on the way that Coach Cal wants to play.

But it was so much more than that on Tuesday night.

The number of lazy and sloppy mistakes that the Wildcats made was downright baffling.

I mean, just watch this:

These are totally unforced, self-inflicted errors, but the turnovers themselves aren’t the only issue.

Kentucky took a lot of bad shots by shooters that shouldn’t be taking them if they were good shots. Do you think that these are the shots that John Calipari wants to see his team take? What are the chances that pull-up 17-footers from Brooks with 22 seconds on the shot clock was Cal’s game-plan?:

I’ve seen some criticism of Kentucky’s defense from Tuesday night, and I don’t understand it. I thought they were good on that end of the floor. Really good, even. Yes, Sam Cunliffe caught fire for a five-minute stretch in the first half. He’s a former top 50 recruit that has played at Arizona State and Kansas. He’s good enough to do that, especially when allow him space:

Sestina was exposed on Tuesday, but this was also a tough matchup for him. Evansville played four guards and forced Sestina to guard out on the perimeter. He got blown by on more than a few times, and it certainly didn’t help that he was unable to take advantage of his size on the other end of the floor. He’s not alone in sharing this blame, however (hi, Nick Ricahrds), and Sestina also showed up on some of Kentucky’s most important stops in the second half, when the Wildcats forced a number of shot clock violations to put themselves in a position to win:

If E.J. Montgomery was healthy, he could have helped mitigate some of this problem. Later in the season, as the likes of Whitney and Brooks theoretically improve and earn more of Cal’s trust, they can play the four in smaller lineups as well. Hell, Kentucky more or less held Cassius Winston in check when they beat Michigan State. If you’re worried about what Kentucky is defensively right now, you’re worrying about the wrong thing.

Kentucky is fine – more than fine, they’re really good – on that end of the floor right now, and they’re only going to get better.

Where they need to find answers is on the offensive end.

There is a saving grace here.

Every team in the country has issues right now. Kansas is trying to figure out what they hell they are going to do at the four. Louisville has point guard concerns. Duke still can’t really shoot. Michigan State is younger than anyone realized. Florida just got waxed at home by a team that lost to Pitt, who lost at home to Nicholls State.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t put this game into context. This was Kentucky’s third game of the season. The first was the Champions Classic. The second was their home opener on a Friday night. There are reasons to be jacked up for both of those games. On Tuesday, it was frigid and snowing in Kentucky. Rupp Arena was as raucous as a retirement home on board game night.

I get why Kentucky was sleepwalking to start.

It happens.

Now the question that Cal has to answer is whether or not he can get this team to the point where they’re good enough to win on those nights.

No. 1 South Carolina tops fifth-ranked UConn 81-77

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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HARTFORD, Conn. – In a rematch of last season’s national championship game, South Carolina came out on top again over UConn thanks to a strong fourth quarter by Aliyah Boston.

Geno Auriemma stepping onto the court to spike a water botte, that helped them, too.

Boston scored 23 of her 26 points in the second half, including 14 in the final period, to help the No. 1 Gamecocks beat the fifth-ranked Huskies 81-77 on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd.

“Aliyah is just relentless, she plays relentlessly although she had a subpar (first half) as far as statistics, she impacted the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She doesn’t get flustered. she knew she didn’t play up to her standards. What does she do? Raise her standard. Bad first half or not she’s going to continue to play.”

While there wasn’t as much on the line as the title game last April, there was a high intensity to it, including Auriemma getting the technical late in the fourth quarter after getting frustrated by the officiating enough to throw the bottle.

“I thought there were a lot of things being overlooked. It was difficult for some of our guys to move out on the floor,” said Auriemma, UConn’s coach. “I didn’t think it was one key play, I just couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It was bad. … Dumb mistake by me. Bad decision.”

The Gamecocks (23-0) have won 29 consecutive games since losing to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game last year. They’ve won four of the past five meetings with the Huskies, including a victory in the NCAA championship game last season. That ended UConn’s perfect 11-0 record in title games.

“This was a national championship-like game. I wanted us to feel what it takes to do this,” Staley said.

Now South Carolina finally has a win in Connecticut after winning there before.

South Carolina used its size again to top the Huskies. The 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year helped the Gamecocks have a 42-30 advantage on the boards, including grabbing 25 offensive rebounds.

Boston finished with 11 rebounds for the 76th double-double of her career. Cardoso added 17 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

With her team leading by four in the fourth quarter, Boston took over. She scored the next 12 points for South Carolina, two of those came when Auriemma tossed the water onto the court and was charged with the technical foul.

Boston hit the two free throws. She then hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and another basket to give the Gamecocks a double-digit advantage.

“I’m kind of in attack mode. In the second half I made more shots then I did in the first half,” Boston said.

Despite seeing their starting backcourt foul out, the short-handed Huskies (21-3) wouldn’t go away. They whittled the lead down to 80-77 with 10.8 seconds left on Aubrey Griffin’s three-point play.

Raven Johnson hit the first of two free throws a second later and UConn couldn’t convert to close out the game

“They have a lot to feel good about once they get past what it feels like to lose,” Auriemma said. “I feel better at 3 o’clock today then I did at 12 o’clock. I didn’t know how we’d respond. I knew we’d play hard and compete like hell. I didn’t know who was going to make a big play, who was going to get a big rebound, make a big shot. I know now more than I did at noon and I feel better about my team.”

Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 25 points.

UConn got off to a solid start, outscoring South Carolina 25-14 in the opening period. Lou Lopez Senechal capped the strong start, hitting a running 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

South Carolina asserted its size in the second quarter with Cardoso scoring 11 points in the period. Her putback with just under 10 seconds left tied the game at 34 heading into the half.

TIP-INS:

UConn is 8-10 against No. 1 teams all time. … The Huskies are still missing guards Azzi Fudd (knee), Caroline Ducharme (concussion) as well as Paige Bueckers (knee) and Ice Brady (knee), who are both out for the season. … Many former UConn players were in the crowd including Sue Bird, Jen Rizzotti, and Napheesa Collier sitting a few rows behind the Huskies bench. … South Carolina has gone 41-6 against ranked teams since the start of the 2019-20 season.

DEPTH:

The Gamecocks reserves outscored UConn’s 37-0. The Huskies only had eight healthy players.

UP NEXT:

South Carolina: visits Auburn on Thursday before a showdown with No. 3 LSU on Feb. 12

UConn: visits Marquette on Wednesday.

No. 16 Duke tops No. 9 Notre Dame 57-52 for 1st place in ACC

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Celeste Taylor scored 14 points and No. 16 Duke came from behind for a 57-52 victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday to move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Trailing for most of the game’s first 28 minutes, the Blue Devils (20-3, 10-2 ACC) took the lead for good in the final minutes of the third quarter to knock off the Fighting Irish (18-4, 9-3) before a sellout crowd of 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion.

A jumper by Jordyn Oliver put Duke ahead 45-44 with 1:20 left in the third quarter and the visitors never trailed after that.

“I’m proud of my players for finishing the game,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said.

Duke led 48-46 going into the fourth quarter after trailing Notre Dame by as many as five points in the third quarter. A steal by Elizabeth Balogun in the final 15 seconds helped seal the win.

A 13-4 run helped Notre Dame take its biggest lead of the first half for either team at 31-23. The Irish led 31-25 at halftime.

“We fell short, but you know it’s a part of our growth,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “It’s part of our journey.”

Taylor scored 10 points for Duke in the second half. Balogun and Shayeann Day-Wilson finished with 9 points apiece and Taya Corosdale and Oliver had 8 each.

Maddy Westbeld, playing all 40 minutes, led Notre Dame with 15 points, Sonia Citron scored 14 and Olivia Miles added 11.

“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Lawson said of Miles, who logged just over 31 minutes. “We didn’t have to go against her for a quarter of the game.”

COLD SHOOTING

Neither team shot well in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame made just 2 of 13 shots from the floor and Duke was 3 of 13.

“We just talked about staying disciplined defensively and making it hard,” Lawson said. “I though we challenged shots.”

Ivey also addressed that stretch of the game.

“Some of those opportunities were in transition and we didn’t get a chance to capitalize,” she said. “We did a good job of finding the open person, we just didn’t nail the shots.”

SUPERB SUBS

Led by Corosdale and Oliver, Duke enjoyed a 21-4 edge in reserve scoring.

“I’m really proud of my players off the bench,” Lawson said. “Jordyn Oliver was really good.

“We needed to have that depth in scoring. Not only did they score but they were efficient from the field.”

The Blue Devils’ bench shot 9 of 15.

SHORT-HANDED IRISH

Notre Dame graduate student Dara Mabrey was lost for the season in the Jan. 22 game against Virginia.

Lauren Ebo, a 6-foot-4 graduate student, has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.

“Ebo does a great job of being a precence on the block with her size and ability to rebound and play post defense,” Ivey said. “She’s been working really hard (at rehabilitation).

“It’s kind of day to day.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish fell out of a first-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings.

Duke: The Blue Devils are now alone atop the conference standings.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: The Irish meet Pitt in two of the next four contests – on Thursday in South Bend and on Sunday, Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh.

Duke: The only regular-season meeting between the Blue Devils and Boston College is Thursday at Boston.

Colorado State sorry for ‘Russia’ chant at Ukrainian player

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Colorado State has apologized for a group of fans who chanted “Russia” at a player on an opposing team who is from Ukraine during Saturday’s game.

Utah State’s Max Shulga is from Kyiv and was shooting free throws when TV cameras picked up the chant from the student section during the game in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

“On behalf of Colorado State, we apologize to the student-athlete and Utah State. This is a violation of our steadfast belief in the Mountain West Sportsmanship Policy and University Principles of Community,” Colorado State said in a statement.

“Every participant, student, and fan should feel welcomed in our venues, and for something like this to have occurred is unacceptable at Colorado State.”

Utah State beat CSU 88-79.

Duke edges North Carolina 63-57 behind Roach, Lively

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
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DURHAM, N.C. — Jeremy Roach scored 20 points, Dereck Lively II had career highs of eight blocks and 14 rebounds and Duke defeated North Carolina 63-57.

Kyle Filipowski added 14 points and Tyrese Proctor 11 for the Blue Devils (17-6, 8-4 ACC), who won their third straight and beat the Tar Heels (15-8, 7-5) for the first time in three meetings, including in last year’s Final Four in the NCAA Tournament.

North Carolina’s Armando Bacot had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 63rd career double-double, extending his own program record, Leaky Black had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Caleb Love added 12 points and RJ Davis 11.

Roach scored eight of Duke’s final 10 points, including the last four after Lively’s tiebreaking dunk with 1:35 to go. North Carolina missed its last five shots, including a trio of 3-point tries in the final minute.

The Blue Devils’ six-point winning margin matched their largest lead.

Neither team reached 40% shooting but Duke outscored North Carolina 20-2 off fast breaks and was 11 of 15 at the free-throw line to only 2 of 3 for the Tar Heels.

The stat sheet was fairly even at halftime when Duke led 33-32 except for one telling stat, a 16-0 advantage for the Blue Devils on fast-break points as they scored repeatedly off transition.

A 14-5 run erased a seven-point North Carolina lead — the Tar Heels’ largest — and put Duke in front 26-24 with just under four minutes left in the half. A Proctor 3-pointer broke the fourth tie before Bacot cut it to the one-point margin at the break. Bacot had 12 points in the first half. Roach had 10.

The game matched two men who played in this rivalry and are now leading the programs they played for: first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer and Hubert Davis, in his second year for North Carolina.

The teams will meet again in their regular-season finale at Chapel Hill on March 4. Duke plays at No. 23 Miami on Monday. North Carolina is at Wake Forest on Tuesday.

No. 13 Iowa State rolls past eighth-ranked Kansas 68-53

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AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes scored all 15 of his points in the second half as No. 13 Iowa State rolled past No. 8 Kansas 68-53 on Saturday.

Osun Osunniyi added 13 for the Cyclones (16-6, 7-3 Big 12), who stayed within at least a game of front-running Texas in the conference standings. Tamin Lipsey added eight rebounds and 10 assists.

“Today, we came out and played desperate,” Holmes said.

Jalen Wilson led the Jayhawks (18-5, 6-4) with 26 points for his sixth straight game with at least 20. No other Kansas player had more than 8 points.

“It’s not a formula for success for us,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “We need balance from our starting five. If one guy feels like he’s got to go do it all on his own, it crashes the offense.”

The Cyclones led for all but 1:14 of the game, building a 34-16 scoring edge in the paint. Kansas struggled early, making just two of their first 10 shots and committing 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

Iowa State shot 46% for the game.

“From the beginning, we gave them some easy buckets,” Wilson said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with (defensively) … the easiest way to get comfortable is easy buckets, layups, stuff like that.”

Iowa State was up 33-21 at the break.

Holmes missed all four shots in the first half, but after getting sick at halftime, he helped the Cyclones stretched the lead to 42-31 early in the second half with a 3-pointer and layup.

“I felt a little nauseous the whole day,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with some sickness over the past week and a half.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped to 3-4 during a stretch in which six of its seven opponents were ranked. The lone unranked foe was Kentucky. … Kansas committed a season-high 20 turnovers Saturday. … The loss to Iowa State was Self’s first in five meetings with second-year Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger.

Iowa State: Improved to 12-0 at home this season and 5-0 in the Big 12. It was also the Cyclones’ fifth win over a top-10 opponent in the past two seasons.

UP NEXT

Kansas: Hosts No. 10 Texas on Monday.

Iowa State: Travels to West Virginia on Wednesday.