Kentucky vs UCLA in New York City: 3 things to know and post-game banter
On Saturday, the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats traveled to Madison Square Garden to play the No. 16 UCLA Bruins in the annual CBS Sports Classic. The contest presented an opportunity for the Wildcats to redeem, as they played their first ranked opponent since a disappointing loss to Gonzaga back in November.
For the first five minutes, both teams traded baskets, and it looked pretty sweet. Cason Wallace even got off to another fast start, scoring 5 points in the Wildcats’ first 90 seconds.
However, Kentucky was forced to run hard shots for much of the half and played uncharacteristic defense as the Bruins built a steady 13-point lead with more than six minutes left in the half. With the energy of Chris Livingston and Lance Weir, Kentucky managed to cut the lead to eight at the end of the first half, 35-27.
Their energy earned them the right to start the second half. Ware answered immediately when he fought for an offensive plate and kicked it for a Sahvir Wheeler three, followed by three consecutive baskets by Chris Livingston to tie the game at 38.
UCLA responded quickly to go up 46-40, but the Wildcats kept fighting to keep the lead in hand. In the end, the Wildcats made too many mistakes to beat a legitimate top-25 team, falling by a score of 63-53.
Then, Kentucky returns home next Wednesday to host Florida A&M.
Now, here are three things to know from the game.
Slow start, offensive ravages death spell
Coming into the contest, KenPom ranked UCLA in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and top 10 Kentucky in defensive efficiency. However, in a battle of strengths, UCLA’s offense prevailed in the first 20 minutes.
In the first half alone, the Bruins only shot five goals and that was because they weren’t forced to take them. The Wildcat defense has allowed UCLA to shoot 50 percent from the field and have been able to get almost anything they want.
When the defense is not up to par, the offense must be stepped up, and this was the real problem for the Wildcats. 53 points in the regulation game versus anyone is terrible.
In the game, they shot terribly by almost every measure, shooting less than 35% from the field for the game while having more turnovers (18) than assists (14).
This crime is a big problem. Until it is resolved, Kentucky will continue to lose to quality opponents.
In the first half, Kentucky only had three players hit more than one field goal: Oscar Cheppuis, Casson Wallace, and Sauvier Wheeler. To add insult to injury, the rest of the team was less flashy, shooting 3/15th from the field. This put the wildcats in a hole early.
Oscar Cheppui had a poor game by his standards with eight points on 4/12 shooting but grabbing 16 rebounds.
Otherwise, Sahifer Wheeler scored 11 points and Chris Livingston 14, but Jacob Tobin, Keison Wallace and Antonio Reeves combined for 18 points on 6/35.
What about Lance? And Livingston?
While the Wildcats didn’t get much help outside of Tshiebwe-Wallace-Wheeler, there were two players who stepped up, Chris Livingston and Lance Weir, that gave the Wildcats a fighting chance.
For weeks John Calipari has been quoted as saying he needed Livingston to play more. On Saturday night, one of the biggest stages in basketball, Livingston made his case for more playing time. In his best game of the season, Livingston scored 14 points on 5/9 shooting.
As for Lance Ware, he’s been another player who’s had inconsistent playing time, and he’s carved out a roster role for himself in his three seasons.
this role? A high-energy player off the bench, which he introduced again on Saturday.
Only two points and five rebounds were scored, and Ware’s out-of-box value was on display, as he led the team in plus/minus, with a +8. This ultimately helped Kentucky make this game when all hope seemed to be lost.
At this point, the Wildcats have lost all three non-conference ranked games and will begin a more challenging SEC schedule at the end of this month.
Personally, I don’t like being negative. However, at this point, it’s fair to wonder when or even if this team will start clicking.
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