LEXINGTON – A bunch of good athletes ran up and down the court for 40 minutes Saturday afternoon, not accomplishing much a good deal of the time, but the visiting Baylor Bears managed to get the basketball in the basket a few more times than the Kentucky Wildcats, so Baylor won, 64-55.
Kentucky lost for the first time in the John Calipari era at Rupp Arena after 54 straight wins. UK’s home win streak was 55 overall coming in, if you count that win in the NIT a few years back at Memorial Coliseum, BC (Before Calipari).
The Wildcats are now 4-3, while Baylor – coming off a loss to the College of Charleston – is 5-2.
The Kentucky players competed harder Saturday than they did in the waste-of-fuel trip to Notre Dame on Thursday, but they still didn’t execute especially well and certainly did not hit shots.
The Wildcats were 21 of 71 from the field vs. Baylor, for 29.6 percent, and just nine of 18 at the free throw line.
Nerlens Noel was 3 of 14 from the field, Kyle Wiltjer (he was on fire, Calipari dryly said of Wiltjer) was 1-for-11, Ryan Harrow 1-for-9, and Julius Mays 2-for-9.
On the bright side, Alex Poythress was a relatively red-hot 6-for-10 and had 13 points.
Archie Goodwin was 5-for-11 from the field and led Kentucky in scoring with 17 points, though you certainly wouldn’t say this was a good game for Goodwin or anyone else in blue and white.
Noel DID muster 16 rebounds, but much of that effort went for naught because Noel would then try to put the ball back up in the basket, and most of the time his shots clanged off the rim.
I wonder sometimes if Noel would better served laying the ball in rather than trying to make every shot a top-10-play-of -the-day slam dunk.
“I think a lack of concentration, having lapses during important parts of the game, bad shooting and field goal percentage – especially myself,” Noel said when asked about the loss. “I guess I did not have enough touch.”
But, boy, that’s nitpicking in this debacle of a game.
Because here’s the thing: Baylor wasn’t especially good either. The Bears looked like a team that could lose to, well, College of Charleston.
A couple Baylor players said afterward that they were looking for revenge after being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight last spring by Kentucky.
I shrug at that because the only thing these two teams have in common from that game nine months ago is that both games were played on Planet Earth.
Baylor coach Scott Drew probably summed up this game best.
“We have five freshmen, and they have a young team, and I thought both teams really competed and played hard,” Drew said. “I think everybody saw that both teams didn’t execute like a veteran team out there.
“We’re blessed to have more experience in the back court because, at the end of the day, the guards are controlling the tempo. And Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip and A.J. Walton did a great job.”
Jackson, a senior point guard, led Baylor with 17 points and five assists, though he also had seven turnovers. But he was a relative Magic Johnson out there compared to his UK backcourt counterparts.
All this said, I offer this note of caution to Kentucky fans: Don’t panic. Right now these Wildcats couldn’t win the NIT, let alone the NCAA, but we’re only seven games in.
And the next four games for UK are confidence builders: Samford this Tuesday at 7; Portland Saturday at noon; Lipscomb Dec. 15 at 12:30 and then Marshall Dec. 22 at 4.
Then there’s the road tilt at Louisville on Dec. 29. But, don’t think about that one. Please...enjoy your Christmas.
There remain several reasons to believe that Kentucky can right the ship and surge into the NCAA Tournament with, well, maybe a five or six seed.
One is Harrow at point guard. Yes, he took bad shots Saturday, as reflected in his shooting percentage. But my gut feeling tells me that won’t continue. Harrow will get better. I predict, much better.
When Kentucky made a second-half run and pulled within 49-46 of Baylor, Harrow was running the show for the Wildcats.
“He got the other guys in the positions we needed them in,” Calipari said of Harrow in the second half. “That’s what he did.”
Goodwin is struggling to figure out when to drive, when to pull up and shoot, and when to pass. He’ll figure it out.
“Archie has a will to win,” Calipari said. “He just doesn’t know how to finish a game off. And it’s not his fault. He’s 18 years old.”
Noel is a good shooter in close. He will not go 3 for 14 again.
The only Wildcat I’m concerned about is Wiltjer. He’s so soft, and if he’s not making shots...I just don’t what to say.
Calipari certainly isn’t in any panic mode.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I mean, I’m not fazed. I told them after the game we are not a very good team and we don’t have very good players right now. But, I still like my team. And I said, we can do what we want with this. We can be special, or we can be what we are right now, sitting in the locker room after L’s.
“What I’ve got to do right now is look at my team and just figure out, are we playing the right way? Do we have to change some things? What do we have to tweak?
“It’s a work in progress.”