Where did that come from? That is the question Kentucky fans and college basketball analysts are asking after the Wildcats, leading by 14 points in the second half, inexplicably lost to South Carolina on Wednesday night.
By Matt Zemek
The Wildcats, for whatever reason, rarely play well in Columbia against the Gamecocks. They have also blown big leads before against South Carolina. That said, this should have been a layup for Big Blue, considering that South Carolina couldn’t even beat a Lamonte Turner-less Tennessee team just days earlier. Kentucky should have mashed the Gamecocks, and somehow managed to let a big lead slip away entirely.
Now comes a very tricky trip to Fayetteville, where the Arkansas Razorbacks are very much on course to make the NCAA Tournament. First-year coach Eric Musselman has come from Nevada and improved the Hogs, offering an early indication that he was the right man for the job. Kentucky should have its hands full with the Razorbacks, and if UK can’t pull through in Bud Walton Arena, the odds of winning the SEC championship this year will go down significantly. Let’s look at what Kentucky needs to do in what is now a bigger game than many could have imagined at the start of the season:
1 – More Quickley, More Maxey
Immanuel Quickley has been outstanding for Kentucky. He was the best player on the floor against South Carolina. Yet, he and Tyrese Maxey combined to shoot the ball only 16 times. They scored 33 points on those 16 shots, but imagine if they get 25 to 30 shot attempts per game. Kentucky’s offense would become even better. The line of attack needs to feature Quickley and Maxey even more than it does right now.
2 – Defend Without Fouling
Kentucky committed 26 fouls against South Carolina. The Gamecocks do not have a very good offense. Teams such as Stetson and Tennessee contained the South Carolina offense. Kentucky’s defense could not do the same. That is plainly unacceptable. A new, revived, completely different Kentucky defense needs to take the floor against Arkansas. As you can see, the game keys here are not really about Arkansas; they focus on Kentucky. This has to be the main thrust of a “game keys” piece after Kentucky completely collapsed against a bad opponent. Nothing Arkansas does (or fails to do) will matter very much if Kentucky doesn’t fix its problems and put its own house in order.
Speaking of those problems, they aren’t confined to defending without fouling:
3 – Rebounds and turnovers
Kentucky committed a truckload of turnovers against South Carolina and allowed almost two dozen offensive rebounds (!!!) to the Gamecocks. What in the heck happened? Kentucky was drowsy, inattentive and ragged against South Carolina. The Wildcats didn’t fade or falter in one area; they faded and faltered across the board. Arkansas is a tough opponent, but Kentucky has to be “Kentucky” if it wants to have any chance.