One thing became clear following UK men’s basketball’s 73-70 loss to the Louisville Cardinals Wednesday night in the KFC Yum! Center — while Malik Monk’s 47-point outburst against UNC was truly a blessing to UK fans and college basketball fans in general, it was also a curse to the young team moving forward.
While Monk and UK played a special game to overcome the Tar Heels, issues that harmed the Cats in that showdown in Las Vegas followed the team to Louisville and proved to be their downfall in the loss to their rivals.
Head coach John Calipari chalked it up to undisciplined play, and that’s probably that best way to describe the troubles that this young team is having.
“I’ve been here where we’ve lost or played that way and still won,” Calipari said following the loss. “If we had discipline, we could have won the game. We had none.”
The disciplinary problems fall on a lot more people than just Monk, but seeing how he was the hero against UNC, he’s probably a good place to start with the loss to the Cardinals. The freshman fell back to Earth hard following his crazy scoring outburst turning in only 16 points against the Cardinals on 6-for-17 shooting from the field and 1-for-9 shooting from deep.
While his shot selection was a problem, Calipari took more issue with his play on the other end. Two quick fouls forced Monk to watch most of the first half from the bench and left the offense short-staffed against a Louisville defense that was already making life hard on the Cats.
Without that additional weapon on the floor, the UK offense struggled. The Cats shot 40 percent (23-for-58) from the floor and 23 percent (5-for-22) from three, and it also didn’t help that they shot a poor percentage from the foul line (66 percent; 19-for-29) down the stretch, too.
De’Aaron Fox was left shouldering a lot of the scoring load, and his lack of discipline showed with his shot selection. A guard as quick as him should be driving every trip down the court, and he had great success when he did do that. But when Quentin Snider, or whatever Louisville defender was guarding him, went under the screen, too many times Fox settled for that mid-range jumper instead of driving into the teeth of the defense.
“We wouldn’t drive it,” Calipari said. “What do you think I was saying every huddle? Do not settle, drive the ball, go right at these guys. Don’t get your shot blocked because if you miss it we’ll rebound it.”
The lack of driving combined with Louisville working hard to limit UK’s transition opportunities, left UK having to search really hard for scoring in the half-court and in the end they weren’t able to find enough. Having a defense as good as Louisville’s makes exploiting these weaknesses easier, but there also hasn’t been much improvement in those area’s throughout the season.
UK hasn’t really been tested offensively because of how the team creates easy points for itself when it gets out and runs. And the same fast-paced speed has played right into the defense getting stops and forcing turnovers with their length.
Calipari took blame in his post-game comments for accepting this type of play so far this season, but he also said another thing that is important to remember — the fact that it is only December 21 and the NCAA Tournament is some ways ahead.
“On the 21st of December we’re not good enough to go on an opponent’s court that’s a top-10 team and win. We’re not,” Calipari said. “They’re better than us right now. December 21st. And that’s what we wanted to see. The issue for us: If we don’t become more of a disciplined team, then we’re just OK.”
An 'OK' is not a bad place to be right now, but it’s hardly where this team projects to end up. Smarter and more disciplined play will come with time.
This team will likely be just as scary as everyone thought they would be by March, but it first needs to move past it being necessary to have a super-human performance in order to beat a top-10 team.