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Kentucky Basketball

Vols Top Kentucky 81-73 at Home on Senior Night

March 4, 2020

Well, that wasn’t what we wanted. Kentucky was up 17 with 17:00 to play and ended up losing by 8 to a Tennessee team they beat in Knoxville. They squandered that 17 point lead in just ten minutes, due in large part to two separate stretches where they went at least three minutes without any points. A team that shot 55% from the field and 4-5 from three in the first half managed to hit just 9 field goals in the second half, going 9-27 in the final 20 minutes. They also allowed Tennessee to shoot at or above 50% from the field in both halves. Tennessee hit 53% of their shots on Tuesday night, more than 9% above Kentucky’s average opponent FG%. It really was an all-systems failure that can’t be pinned on one particular person or aspect of the game. Tennessee dominated Kentucky in every aspect of the game in the second half.

I’m not one who puts too much stock into single performances, especially negative ones, but this loss highlighted glimpses of problems we’ve seen from this team all year. Most of the time, they have been able to overcome stretches of sub-par play, but tonight was a clear reminder of what happens when they cannot right the ship. Three major things stick out when reviewing this game that points to the underlying causes of the second-half collapse - points in the paint, fastbreak points, and second-chance points. 

In the first half, Kentucky seemed to score at will. They were dominating with Maxey drives and then kicking out to open shooters. The offense, no matter who was leading it, seemed to be in rhythm and was tough to stop. Kentucky outscored Tennessee 20-16 in the paint in the first half.

The second half, however, saw Tennessee collapse and completely take away the paint from the Cats. Drivers were running into multiple help defenders. Kentucky’s guards were unable to get the ball into the post. After scoring 20 points in the first half, Kentucky registered just 12 paint points in the second half, and those points came at a cost to efficiency. Tennessee effectively shut down the paint, and the rest of UK’s offense crumbled. 

Going forward, Kentucky has to rely on its ability to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line in order to snap out of the scoring ruts they can find themselves in. Whether it is a guard (preferably Maxey) or a big man, they need to maintain their post presence if they are going to win close games.

Not only did Kentucky struggle in the halfcourt to produce in the second half, but they also allowed Tennessee to flourish in transition. Tennessee registered no points on fastbreaks in the first half but scored 14 in the second half to outscore Kentucky 14-11 for the game. What ended up largely being driven by a lack of hustle or discipline, Tennessee was able to get loose balls and force Kentucky mistakes which led to easy transition buckets on the other end. 

And speaking of hustle, Tennessee scored 9 second-chance points in the second half after being held scoreless in the first. On the broadcast, Jimmy Dykes kept talking about Kentucky’s need to finish possessions with a defensive rebound, and he was right. Defensive rebounding has been a problem all year for Kentucky, and it was especially problematic in the second half. Discipline and effort are the two huge factors in rebounding, and it needs to get fixed.

Systematic problems like the ones mentioned above rarely fall squarely on one person’s shoulders. The blame is a blanket across the team and it takes an entire team to change them. However, the play and demeanor of Ashton Hagans cannot be overlooked in the loss. According to sources, Hagans butted heads with several members of the coaching staff and his teammates. There still will likely be more to come out about this, but it isn’t a good look for a team to not be playing together this late into the season.

There was a lot from Tuesday’s night loss that should have the BBN on edge. There’s only one more game before the postseason, which means tensions are heightened. However, to end, I am going to touch on the positive things to take away from the game, in an effort to shed a little light on what might otherwise be a dreary Wednesday.

Kentucky showed in the first half the potential of a Maxey-led offense, something that has been gotten more and more traction in the past couple weeks. With Hagans out due to foul trouble, Maxey took over as the lead guard and got to the basket at will. In addition, Quickley and Juzang hit from three and Kentucky’s offense was rolling. As we move into March, expect more of Maxey as the primary ball-handler, especially in the waning minutes of games. 

At the end of the day, this loss will hopefully be a small blip on an otherwise successful end to a season. We highlighted the problems Kentucky had in the second half, of which there were many, but the nice thing about those problems is that they are fixable. You’d prefer to not worry about them happening at all, but the fact of the matter is Kentucky has shown that they can be better than they were in the second half. They are still a high-upside team that will look to bounce back in Gainesville on Saturday. 


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Vols Top Kentucky 81-73 at Home on Senior Night

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