Any illusions that Kentucky fans had about this team instantly jelling together, instantly learning the dribble drive, and instantly living up to their potential had a bit of a reality check in tonight’s second half against Campbellsville.
Don’t get me wrong, my long term expectations have not changed – not a bit. This is a team that I whole heartedly believe can play deep into March and into April, but the offensive struggle against an overmatched squad illustrates what I have been saying from the second people started talking about UK’s return to the limelight of college basketball:
It’s not happening overnight.
Granted, UK missed John Wall. The presence of John Wall likely would have covered up (and will cover up) some of those stagnant moments throughout the game. Even so, the institution of the dribble drive is going to take some time.
Patrick Patterson looked as lost on the floor as he ever has a Kentucky Wildcat. I can’t remember a game where he had 6 turnovers, and I definitely can’t remember a game where he had more turnovers than points or rebounds. Patterson is going to benefit in a big wat from playing for Calipari, but he will have some growing pains.
Darius Miller also looked a bit unsure of himself at times. He continued to be hesitant to live up to the mantra of the DDM (drive with the dribble), but when he did, you saw why Calipari is so optimistic about Darius.
All told, the ‘Cats had 23 turnovers against just 12 assists, not exactly ideal. UK shot 50%, but too often they were unable to get a shot off against the undersized Tigers. UK punished C’ville when they got the ball inside to DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, and Patrick Patterson, but the objective tonight was to begin to take off the DDM training wheels.
UK raced out to a 36-11 halftime lead behind the stellar play of Eric Bledsoe and some stifling defense. Bledsoe registered 9 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 1 ridiculous block. The Tigers were held to just 3-25 shooting from the field, as the outcome was removed from doubt very quickly.
DeMarcus Cousins also made plays much of the first half with nice post moves, solid rebounding, and blocks due to the fact that he was half a foot taller than most of his opponents.
UK scored 7 quick ones in the second half to go up 43-11, causing the ‘Cats to relax quite a bit. Credit Campbellsville as well, they would not go away. For 12 minutes after Darius Miller’s basket to put UK up 32 with 17 minutes left, the Tigers outscored UK 19-10, and the UK offense was completely out of sync.
Daniel Orton, one of UK’s most consistent contributors to that point, went out after falling to the ground and sustaining a blow to the head. Orton is also the leader in the clubhouse for my favorite player not named Wall or Patterson. The kid just knows how to play the game. He rebounds well. He throws outlet passes well. He knows the spaces to move to when one of his teammates is penetrating.
Eric Bledsoe also left the game with a minor injury. In his case, a tweaked right ankle. Bledsoe was joking around on the sideline with John Wall, so I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.
At the 5 minute mark, Calipari inserted Perry Stevenson and Mark Krebs (who had yet to play to that point) to play with Miller, Josh Harrellson, and Ramon Harris. Perry, making his case to be more prominently featured in the rotation, was very aggressive off the dribble (something that had to please Cal) and scored 11 points very quickly.
Stevenson and company ended up stretching the deficit back out to 36, making the score look just a bit better than the ‘Cats probably played. Based on the way they did play, it did seem like they are very accustomed to John Wall having the ball in his hands. Wall generates so much by getting the ball to the basket, passing it off to teammates, and creating offensive rebound opportunities, and he was missed tonight. In the long term, playing without will be good for the ‘Cats.
Player of the game honors tonight go to Darnell Dodson, who played with more confidence than anyone else on the team. He only shot 2-6 from distance, but he showed a willingness and an ability to not only take the ball to the basket, but also finish. Dodson won’t be a starter (at least not yet) when Wall is back, but he can be a major sparkplug as the first or second man off the bench.
Last season, if you’ll remember, every game I would give UK a grade in a few major categories. The categories evolved as the season progressed and they reflected the areas that I believed UK needed to address and improve most. I’m not to the point where I can identify those categories.
Therefore, in this space for the first few games, I’m going to take a quick look at the rotation used by Coach Calipari.
The starters tonight were Bledsoe, Miller, Dodson, Patterson, and Cousins. Bledsoe, Miller, Dodson, and Patterson all played for 29 minutes or more.
Cousins and Daniel Orton split time in the front court, playing 17 and 18 minutes respectively. This is a battle to watch all season. Josh Harrellson was the 4th big, playing 9 minutes, but he wasn’t the offensive factor he was in the Blue-White game.
The first wing player off the bench was Jon Hood (13 minutes), quickly followed by Ramon Harris (15 minutes). After the first half, Cal was a little more hesitant to use Hood.
The last 3 men on the bench were Stevenson, Mark Krebs, and DeAndre Liggins. Stevenson and Krebs played the last few minutes, but Liggins didn’t make it off the bench, which was surprise to me.
Stevenson made a pretty strong case for more clock in the next game, while minutes for Harris and Hood figure to be a little more sparse with the return of John Wall.
Calipari used a base rotation of 9 men tonight, but I expect him to settle into an 8 man rotation as the year progresses.