Change on the Horizon?
Kentucky basketball has been in a rare low spot in the John Calipari era. In the midst of a six game slide, the young Wildcats found themselves in a must win situation.
Big Blue Nation had been clamoring for things to change. New Year, new team? That’s a bit optimistic, but there were positive signs for this team beyond a much needed win. Enter Dontaie Allen.
After a 1-6 start, change was a necessity for the Wildcats. Much like in real life, it seems like change is a slow process. Kentucky’s slow start to the season can be attributed to three key factors:
- Poor Offensive Execution – Primarily poor shooting.
- Frequent Turnover Problems
- Foul Troubles
While playing short handed, the young Wildcats found a spark for their offense. Kentucky native and fan favorite, Dontaie Allen, erupted for 23 points on 8/13 shooting including 7/11 from three point land. As a whole, the Wildcats shot the ball better from the field.
After Calipari was ejected midway through the second half while trailing 52-46, Allen hit five of his seven threes.
For most of the season, Kentucky’s half court offense was the team’s primary Achilles Heel. This game was no exception, there were frequent scoring droughts for this team. The Wildcats turnover issues continued, as they coughed the ball up 18 times.
Why Is There Reason for Optimism?
Despite being in complete disarray, Kentucky has still managed to play teams like North Carolina, Kansas, and Louisville close. Had all three Kentucky big men not fouled against North Carolina, the game would have been closer than the 75-63 final reflected.
According to KenPom’s Defensive Efficiency Metrics, Kentucky is 18th amongst 357 eligible teams. Ranking 85th in adjusted offensive efficiency and playing a top 25 non conference strength of schedule, Kentucky has, for the most part, been competitive in every game played. When the shots start falling and this teams offensive chemistry continues to build, the Wildcats could become very dangerous.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs had an off night shooting overall, shooting 37.7% from the field despite averaging 45.2% shooting on the season. That still didn’t stop Iverson Molinar, DJ Stewart Jr., and Jalen Johnson combining for 50 of the Bulldogs 73 points.
Mississippi State lead for 31:07 and went toe for toe with the Wildcats on the boards, only being out rebounded 48-46. The Bulldogs also commanded a decisive free throw advantage, making 16-23 free throws (FTs). Meanwhile the Wildcats only made 3-8 FTs.
The Bulldogs also helped limit Kentucky’s offensive transition points. Mississippi State also nearly matched the Wildcats 18 turnovers with 16 of their own yet matched the Wildcats with 11 fast break points of their own. Where Kentucky separated themselves was in the paint and beyond the arc.
Kentucky shot a staggering 52% from threes, thanks in large part to Allen’s seven. The Wildcats also managed to score 30 points in the paint against a talented Mississippi State front-court.
Isaiah Jackson continued to struggle mightily on the offensive end. Jackson scored only two points, but did block four of Kentucky’s 10 blocked shots.
Davion Mintz had an unusually turnover prone day. Mintz turned the ball over five times to go along with his seven points and five assists. Meanwhile, fellow pointguard Devin Askew continues to improve, scoring 11 points with six assists and only three turnovers.
Potential NBA lottery pick Brandon Boston Jr. continued to struggle mightily with his jump shot, only hitting 4-13 total FGs.
Olivier Sarr lead the Wildcats on the glass with 12 rebounds to go with his 14 points and two blocked shots. On the other side of the ball, Stewart Jr. lead the Bulldogs with 19 points while Molinar contributed 17 and a team high five assists.
Keion Brooks, Kentucky’s lone experienced player from last years squad, continues to nurse a leg injury and his return to the lineup is unknown. Meanwhile, fellow NBA target Terrence Clarke missed this game with an injury sustained in the loss to Louisville December 26th.
Next up for the Kentucky Wildcats is a 7:00pm Rupp Arena rumble with the Vanderbilt Commodores while Mississippi State welcomes 12th ranked Missouri to Starksville.