Friday, February 5, 2016

Did Kansas Give Kentucky Two Losses?

Did the Kansas Jayhawks actually give Kentucky two losses in three days?

After watching Kentucky fire out of the gates against Tennessee only to falter in impressive fashion, one has to wonder if the Wildcats were too drained from the Kansas game to pick up a road win in Knoxville.

Against the Volunteers, Kentucky made uncharacteristic mistakes, particularly in the second half. The Wildcats seemed to give up defensively and showed a lack of effort on hustle plays and rebounding for 20-25 minutes of action. One might say the Wildcats were still stuck in the Phog.

Here are a few thoughts:

1. Take your perception of how tough the Allen Fieldhouse atmosphere is and times it by 10. That's what it's like during a big game at Kansas. Television really doesn't do the arena justice. Allen Fieldhouse is so loud that it's difficult to explain in words. I'll write more about this over the weekend but I can promise you that Kentucky hasn't dealt with an atmosphere like this since Indiana in 2011-12. At times, it was so loud that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Literally, the atmosphere was so powerful that it messed with my emotions.

2. It takes time to recover from a hard fought, overtime battle in an atmosphere like that. For 45 minutes, Kentucky went toe-to-toe with a top 5 team in one of the most incredible atmospheres I've ever witnessed (certainly the loudest by far). A game of that nature takes a great deal out of a team both physically and mentally. It's particularly tough to recover enough in just three days to win a conference road game. Bill Self said after the game that he is not a fan of playing a game like this during the middle of the conference season. His team played like crap against Kansas State Wednesday night as well. Luckily for the Jayhawks, they had an additional day of rest and they were playing at home.

3. Kentucky showed all the signs of a tired team Tuesday night. The Wildcats shot out to a 34-13 lead with just under six minutes to go in the first half at Tennessee. From there, Tennessee fought back and inevitably gave Kentucky more than they could handle. The Cats struggled to shoot, couldn't play defense, made uncharacteristic errors and didn't put forth the effort to win on the road. These are all characteristics of a tired team. Anyone who has ever played basketball knows what it's like to "have it" or "not have it" during a game. I would be willing to bet that most Kentucky players felt they just didn't have it vs. Tennessee.

4. The box score doesn't lie. A quick look at the box score from the Tennessee game is very telling. Tyler Ulis was 3-10 from the field. Jamal Murray was 7-20 from the field and 3-12 from long range. The Wildcats committed 26 fouls and somehow managed to get out-rebounded by one of the smallest teams in the Southeastern Conference. Add to that a lack of defense that allowed a mediocre Tennessee team to score 84 points and it's very easy to see what went wrong on paper.

Looking ahead: Personally, I think Kentucky bounces back with an impressive performance against Florida Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena. The Gators (15-7, 6-3 SEC) have won 6-of-7 games and are certainly capable of knocking off the Wildcats, but I think UK takes care of business.

If Kentucky handles Florida and does what they should against Georgia next week, they will be sitting 18-6 and 8-3 in the conference. They will then have a difficult road battle at South Carolina and a chance at revenge against Tennessee. Win those four games and all is well in Lexington once again. 

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