I actually thought we had a great game plan and executed it well for the most part. Kentucky is clearly more talented and more athletic than us, so we slowed the game down and made it an ugly slug fest. We primarily ran a 2-3 zone on defense and quickly double-teamed their bigs when they got the ball in the post. In the early goings, we did not do a good job of closing out on the 3 point shooters, and their token white zone buster burned us on his first two shots. After that, they only went 3 for 26 for the rest of the game. Forcing Kentucky to take 28 threes when they have such a favorable matchup in the post is a win.
Randle was the only Wildcat in double figures with 12, and we somehow held Cauley-Stein to just 3 points and 5 boards. As expected we were badly outrebounded, but even that wasn't as bad as I feared, at 41-27. We "only" gave up 15 offensive rebounds, which against a great rebounding team like UK and considering we played zone most of the night, that is actually not too shabby for this team. We did as good of a job of finding somebody to get a body on and boxing out as any reasonable person could hope for. Overall, I thought our guys had great effort and energy, and appeared to want it more than Kentucky.
Offensively, I thought Releford played well and did a good job handling their pressure. We only had 8 turnovers as a team. Shannon Hale had a good game despite making a couple of freshman mistakes, but he should have been more aggressive offensively. Levi seemed to regress a bit in this game, he missed a couple of 3s which appeared to hurt his confidence, as he passed up some open looks during key possessions in the second half.
We took a 5 point lead early in the second half but that quickly disappeared with a 4 minute scoring drought. It seemed to me that our guys got a little frustrated when they didn't get the benefit of some calls where there was some contact in the paint, and we started settling for jump shots. As I said above, Levi and Shannon should have been more aggressive in the second half, and conversely Cooper demonstrated some very poor shot selections.
As much as I liked the game plan and think the coaches did an excellent job in preparing for this game; I am completely perplexed by what happened in the final 3 minutes. Down 7, we switched to a press, and actually got a steal and a stop. We failed to score, then went right back to the soft 2-3 zone and allowed UK to milk the clock. I can understand playing for a stop there, and I know why we didn't press more throughout the game, but in that situation you have to try to force a turnover in my opinion. At the very least, where was the 1-3-1 zone halfcourt trap? I don't recall seeing much of that all game, and it's something UK has struggled with this season. Furthermore, still down only 7 with one minute to go, we STILL didn't foul, against a team that is not exactly known for great free throw shooting. I just felt like we threw in the towel too easily there at the end. We had a great game plan, the guys bought in and played hard all night, and I feel like the players deserved to be given a chance to try to come back and win. By staying in a zone and watching Kentucky dribble out the clock, the coaches deprived the players of that opportunity.
Up next, Mike Anderson brings his Arkansas Razorbacks to Tuscaloosa for a 3 p.m. tipoff Saturday afternoon. The only way to see it is to buy a ticket, or watch on ESPN3. Arkansas badly needs the road win to hang on to the coveted 4 seed in the SEC tournament and to enhance their NCAA resume. Beyond playing the role of spoiler, Alabama can possibly jump up to the 10 seed and avoid having to play on Wednesday, depending on what happens with Vandy's next 2 games (v. LSU and @Ole Miss). There is a lot on the line, so it should be an exciting game. More importantly, Trevor Releford will be honored on senior night. That alone should be enough of a reason for EVERY Bama basketball fan who is able to be in Coleman Coliseum Saturday afternoon. Relly is one of the best point guards we've ever had, and it's a shame he hasn't had much help over the last 4 years, but I'm hoping there will be a large crowd and we can help him get a win in his last game in Tuscaloosa.