Our view for the game. Those red and white ants down there are actually basketball players. We didn't take many pictures due to being so far away from the court.
We actually jumped out to a 5-1 lead despite picking up 4 fouls in the first 2 minutes, 2 of which were on Tony Mitchell. Jacobs replaced Mitchell and played very well in the post, especially on the offensive end. He ended up playing 28 minutes and had 9 points. UK went on a first half run to take an 8 point lead with around 13 minutes left in the first half. Thankfully, they could not make their free throws in the first half and we were able to fight and stay in the game. We trailed by only 5 at halftime.
Moral victories are for losers, but there were a lot of positives from this game. I liked our game plan and was surprised by how well we were able to execute. I was afraid we would get dominated in the post, but instead we went right at them and had a lot of success. JaMychal Green had a great game with 22 points in addition to what Nick Jacobs was able to accomplish. If we could have got any production out of Tony Mitchell we might have pulled the upset, he fouled out with only 6 points. In fairness, he drew a very difficult matchup, but he is in a funk right now. I think once again he got frustrated with the officials, despite the fact that his fouls were actually good calls for the most part.
Releford did a nice job of driving the lane and making some circus shots, as well as knocking down a couple of treys and putting us in a good position to score. It was a great effort from our point guard in a very difficult environment.
It seemed like every time we would cut the lead to 4 or so Kentucky would make a big three point shot. Conversely, every time UK would go up 7 or 8 and the fans would get loud, and I started to worry that we were on the verge of being blown out, somebody would step up and answer with a big basket. We showed a lot of poise against one of the nation's elite teams on the road.
Not only did we play well inside, but we actually made 5 of 7 from three point range. We were selective about shooting from out there, and most of our shots were wide open, thanks to them double teaming in the post. Coming into the game, 3 point defense appeared to be UK's only weakness. I was afraid we would try to exploit that by relying too heavily on the outside shot. Great job by Coach Grant and staff for not falling into that trap, as we all know outside shooting is not the identity of this team.
Defensively, we mostly played them straight up but allowed them to shoot some open outside shots. We couldn't press much due to their quickness and athletic ability. We played about as good as could be expected on defense, Kentucky is a damned good team and they will make some shots.
While UK's poor free throw shooting kept us in the game in the first half, it was their work at the line that eventually won it for them down the stretch. They shot 40 free throws in the game, and made 27 of them. They were only 4 of 11 at halftime.
We still had a chance to win in the final minutes of the game. In fact, we were only down 2 with less than a minute remaining, but UK couldn't miss from the charity stripe. A couple of key possessions, at one point we were down 4 and Green missed the front end of a one and one. UK made 2 free throws at the other end for a 4 point swing. Also, down 4 we got a steal and had numbers, but could not convert on the layup with a couple of minute remaining. Andrew Steele picked up a foul at the other end, when we had played good defense and forced UK into a difficult shot.
Overall, a good effort, but we just didn't make the plays when we had to. With Syracuse losing to Notre Dame, Kentucky will be the top ranked team when the polls come out. Hopefully hanging with the nation's top team on the road will give us some confidence going into this stretch of very winnable games.
If you have never been to Rupp Arena, put that on your list. It is as great of an atmosphere for college basketball as you will find. Their fans are knowledgeable (well, except for the guy who asked me how many fouls it takes to get into the bonus) and very passionate about their team. The arena itself is not very nice. It's huge, but cramped and takes forever to get out of after the game. Their fans are very hospitable, many wishing us luck before the game and complimenting our team after the game. As one person said to me as we were leaving, "Alabama came in here and played Kentucky as tough as anybody I've seen. You guys have a good team." UK doesn't lose at home under coach Cal. We came as close as anybody has to changing that.
Up next, we travel to Columbia, SC for a 7pm Central tipoff Wednesday night. I will be watching on the SEC network. It's a winnable game but going on the road is never easy. If we want to be a top 3 or 4 team in the conference, these are the games we must win. Not to mention, we need to snap the 3 game losing streak.