Nov 12, 2013, 11:57 PM EDT
CHICAGO — Big Blue Nation’s traveling posse will head to O’Hare or Midway or back down I-65 to Lexington disappointed on Wednesday morning.
The first showing of Kentucky’s world famous recruiting class on a national stage did not exactly go as planned, as the No. 2 Wildcats took a generally hard-fought, but at times mighty frustrating, 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic.
On paper, the loss looks bad, as Kentucky went just 20-for-36 from the free throw line and finished with eight assists and 17 turnovers. Throw in a 4-for-20 performance from beyond the arc, which includes a scorching 0-for-9 in the second half, and, well, that’s just not pretty.
That’s also the point.
Think about it like this: Kentucky probably could not have played worse in the first 15 minutes. They were down 10-0 in the first four minutes. They were down by 15 with five minutes left in the half. Michigan State’s two All-Americans, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, were on fire. It looked like we were primed for a beatdown to kick things off in the United Center.
“That coulda been 25,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “It shoulda been 20 at half.”
But it wasn’t.
For all the issues that the Wildcats had on Tuesday, for everything that went wrong in the first 20 minutes, Kentucky battled all the way back. They tied the game in the second half, erasing a 12 point halftime deficit despite missing 12 free throws in the final 20 minutes. They missed open three after open three, yet continued to slowly chip away at Michigan State’s lead. Despite a couple of seemingly back-breaking turnovers and momentum-killing bad shots, the only thing that could finally stop Kentucky’s surge was the final buzzer.
They did all that against a very well-coached, veteran Michigan State team with two future first round picks and a senior point guard playing his best game in recent memory that just so happened to enter this game as the No. 2 team in the country.
And all of that came in the first game that most of these guys have ever played at this level and with this much national attention.
Do you realize just how impressive that is?
“This kind of tournament is great for college basketball,” Cal said. “It is terrific for the teams. It’s just tough for a really young team. I knew we’d start that way.”
“They’ve never been in an environment like this. When guys get that, they get into themselves a little bit. It gets discombobulated. We just did stuff that shot ourselves in the foot. But that’s what kids like this are going to do.”
The bottom line is this: Julius Randle is a beast. He had 27 points and 13 boards and thoroughly dominated any and all of Michigan State’s big men in the second half, when he had 23 points and nine boards to spur the comeback. Randle did have eight turnovers, but that comes with the territory. This was the first time in Randle’s career he’s faced a team that is this talented and this well-coached in how to double-team the post. He’ll not only learn how to read where the double is coming from, he’ll develop a post move beyond just a simple spin — which was probably responsible for seven of those eight turnovers. 27 and 13 on an off-night? Yikes.
Randle wasn’t the only guy that showed promise. James Young had 15 points in the first half and 19 on the game. Alex Poythress finished with seven points, 12 boards (seven offensive) and three blocks. Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson did some good things when they were on the floor.
You weren’t being lied to when you were told that there is a ridiculous amount of talent on Kentucky’s roster, and it’s only going to get better as the season progresses.
The key, however, is going to be how the Harrison twins progress. Aaron, the shooting guard, was 1-for-7 from the floor. Andrew, the point guard, had 11 points and three assists, but committed four turnovers, took a couple of bad shots down the stretch and had noticeably poor body language. Kentucky needs that duo to provide leadership. Coach Cal needs them to be floor generals, facilitating offense and getting the Wildcats into their sets. He needs them to understand that their best offense is when the ball goes into the post.
We’re not quite there yet, which is part of the reason that Kentucky has not quite reached their potential yet.
The best news to come out of Tuesday? What Kentucky has more than enough of is time.
“I’ve got four months to get this right,” Cal said.
Apr 24, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT
He will be attending law school.
Apr 24, 2015, 8:51 PM EDT
Kaleb Tarczewski decided to return to Arizona earlier in the day.
Apr 24, 2015, 8:15 PM EDT
The fifth banner is now hanging in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:56 PM EDT
DePaul lost a junior guard and a three-star forward (for the second time) on Friday evening.
Apr 24, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
He’ll be able to play immediately.
Apr 24, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT
The second team All-MAC guard will have two years of eligibility left.
Apr 24, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Walker’s career didn’t pan out the way anyone expected, but he’s headed to the pro game after two seasons.
Apr 24, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
Who’s going pro? Who’s returning to school? Who are we still waiting to hear from?
Apr 24, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT
A roster that will be both young and talented returns its leader as Dunn will be back for another season.
Apr 24, 2015, 1:14 PM EDT
It was reported earlier this week that Newman would be headed to Starkville, and he made it official Friday afternoon.
Apr 24, 2015, 12:55 PM EDT
The return of “Zeus” means that Arizona will have one returning starter from last year’s 34-4 team.
Apr 24, 2015, 12:16 PM EDT
The return of Buddy Hield pushes previously unranked Oklahoma into our way too early rankings.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:34 AM EDT
The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year has some unfinished business to attend to next season.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
Poythress played in eight games before suffering a torn ACL in practice.
Apr 24, 2015, 9:35 AM EDT
Sterling Smith averaged 13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game at Coppin State last season.
Apr 23, 2015, 9:22 PM EDT
Long averaged a double-double for the third consecutive season in 2014-15. He’ll hang around to make a run at a fourth.
Apr 23, 2015, 8:01 PM EDT
Johnson led the Wildcats in scoring last season while also averaging 6.5 rebounds per contest.
Apr 23, 2015, 6:50 PM EDT
Minnesota had a need for added depth on the wing, and the addition of Ahmad Gilbert helps in that regard.
Apr 23, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
A second team All-Summit League selection last season, Billbury will be eligible immediately for VCU.
Apr 23, 2015, 4:05 PM EDT
Wallace led the Golden Bears in points, rebounds and assists last season.
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