Kentucky Looks For Improvement Against Undefeated Boise State
Kentucky has several weaknesses to fix in a short period of time against an increasingly challenging schedule.
The No. 11 Wildcats (7-2) blew a nine-point lead in the final 13 minutes of a 67-62 loss to No. 14 Baylor Friday night. Several aspects of their game were exposed and need strengthening before playing unbeaten Boise State (8-0) Tuesday night.
Kentucky appeared to be in sync a week ago after beating Providence.
But the young Wildcats were out-rebounded for the first time this season, perhaps the most glaring breakdown against Baylor. Kentucky also struggled at the foul line, didn't box out at times and failed to make a steal.
Players and coach John Calipari said the breakdowns were due to a lack of concentration, which must improve against the Broncos and at No. 18 North Carolina (6-2) on Saturday.
"This stretch is pretty important to us," freshman guard/forward James Young said Monday. "We're going to take it game by game, and I'm pretty sure we can get the `W' if we just play hard through the whole game."
Playing completely from start to finish has been challenging for Kentucky's highly touted freshmen, who have won games despite unfocused play during stretches. That flaw finally caught up with the Wildcats in the second half against more experienced Baylor in Arlington, Texas, especially on the boards.
The Bears out-rebounded Kentucky 41-25 and grabbed more offensive rebounds (18) than the Wildcats got on defense (15). Kentucky also made just 12 of 23 free throws and missed several attempts during the final 3:09 in which it went without a field goal.
To Calipari, those areas are the result of the Wildcats' failure to finish what they start.
"This team, what they seem to do is get it going and do it right and then they get arrogant and step back," the coach said. "How did we step back? Well, that's what young teams do.
"The way we do it is really hard. The way they've always played has been really easy. Now, which way do you want to do it? The real hard way, or the easy way? And every chance you can revert back to see if it still works, you do. That's just how it is coaching young teams."
Calipari has said one of the biggest challenges with this talented group of rookies has been teaching them defensive fundamentals, such as boxing out after many focused on offense in high school. During Friday's loss, there was less communication, chemistry and team confidence - and all that must change in Kentucky's inaugural meeting against Boise State.
The Broncos are coming off an 80-52 win over Carroll College on Thursday without leading scorer Anthony Drmic (20.4 points per game), who sat out with an undisclosed illness. Senior guards Jeff Elorriaga and Thomas Brelph filled the void against Carroll by scoring 18 points each and combining for nine 3-pointers.
Boise State's perimeter shooting is why it's the nation's No. 2 offense, scoring nearly 92 points a game. Kentucky needs to pressure the ball better against the Broncos better than it did against Baylor. However, the Wildcats' main objective is staying more focused against the Broncos.
"It just seems like as soon as we get tired, our minds just go everywhere and get scattered," Young said. "We need to work on that a little bit."
And they're going to need to sustain that focus for more than one game.
If the Wildcats can get past the Broncos, another hurdle looms at North Carolina. The Tar Heels have shown they can beat anybody, but they've also been inconsistent. North Carolina has beaten defending champion and sixth-ranked Louisville and No. 1 Michigan State, but also lost to Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham.
Right now though, Calipari said it's more about his team than who the Wildcats play.
"We knew it was going to be hard and we knew we'd lose games," he said. "I knew coming to this point they were going to have to find each other, or we're not going to be as good as everybody thinks or I think we should be."