After having some time to look back on Kentucky's loss to Baylor Friday night, I guess it's time to talk about it… Ugh
Yes, Kentucky should have won this game, especially when they had built a nine point lead in the second half. It was in that moment you thought the Cats were about to pull away and win in very convincing fashion. The body language looked good, defense was being played at a high level and they had the look in their eyes of a team that was about to blow it open. Then the next five minutes happened and everything changed for the worse.
Baylor scored consecutive baskets in the paint paired with several trips to the free-throw line and just like that, Baylor is up one completely taking the air out of Kentucky in the process. From that point on you could tell by the body language that this game wasn't going to end well if your were a Cat fan. I have never seen a team cash it in with so much time left on the clock. It's like once they lose a lead in the second half, they just give up and look as if they would rather be anywhere but on the floor. This is something that will have to change and fast if they expect to perform anywhere close to what fans have been expecting for over a year.
During the last ten minutes of the game there was NO effort whatsoever from anyone on the floor wearing Blue. On several occasions, rebounds off missed free throws were claimed by Baylor basically uncontested which was what eventually sealed the fate of Kentucky on this night. There was too much of one-on-one basketball instead of playing as a team, something that had an impact during the Michigan State game earlier this season. Then on defense things looked even worse if that's even possible.
Countless times guys got beat off the dribble only to be called for a reach-in or hand-check foul which is a direct result of playing lazy defense. Every year under Cal except this one (so far at least), when the Cats found themselves trailing in the final minutes of the game that's when they played their best and toughest defense, this team does the exact opposite. The Cats were scared and Baylor knew it and took advantage every trip down the floor. In the words of Calipari in the post game interview, the Cats were out-worked, out-toughed and out-hustled on every possession during the last ten minutes of the game.
Sure a lot of this could be chalked up to them being young, but that is no longer an excuse. Anthony Davis and company proved once and for all that talent can and does beat experience when the passion and aggressiveness is there. So far this season, this team has neither. Now, that's not to say they can't or won't get it, but they have to work for it. It's not going to come as easy as high school or AAU ball came to these guys in years past. It's going to take dedication and time in the gym then and only then will we start to see the TRUE potential of this team.
The reason it's so aggravating to watch this years team play is because EVERYONE knows what they are capable of doing except them. The bad news is the schedule doesn't get any easier over the next few weeks with games like Boise State, North Carolina and Louisville looming. They will have to find their identity and in a hurry or I can see at least two more losses before conference play even begins. The bad part about that is if the Cats keep losing to ranked teams, they will find themselves with a very difficult seed in the NCAA Tournament instead of the #1 or 2 seed they should have.
The good news is after watching Colorado beat #6 Kansas earlier this afternoon, it's clear that Kentucky isn't the only team struggling early this year. Just keep in mind the fact that it's only December and there is plenty of time for improvement, hopefully...