By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
After an 84-83 overtime loss to Seton Hall that saw the Kentucky offense have a complete meltdown in the overtime period it seems like it’s time for John Calipari to admit that as of now this is not one of his better defensive teams or shooting teams and he is short a point guard.
In the final ten seconds of the overtime period with UK trailing 84-83 it was pretty clear that point guard Ashton Hagans had no clue how to get the Kentucky offense into some type of a set that would allow them to drive the ball to the basket and either get fouled, make the layup or dump the ball off to one of the big men for a shot in the paint. He also couldn’t seem to get a high screen from any of the big men in the game in hopes of attempting some type of pick and roll for a layup attempt or dump off to PJ Washington around the basket.
In that situation – behind by one point – the point guard will usually try beat his man off the dribble to force the opposing big man out to cut off the ball. When that rotation occurs it leaves the offense with either a quick pass to the post for an easy inside shot or a foul from the defender on the driving point guard. In this situation UK got neither. What they got was an air ball by Keldon Johnson from the three point line with about one and a half seconds left on the game clock.
For a team that was 5 for 20 on three pointers the last thing they wanted was a three point shot at the end of the overtime. They had already used up all nine of their lives in regulation when Johnson hit an unlikely heave from mid-court right at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Unfortunately plays like the one at the end of the overtime period seem to occur fairly regularly with this UK team.
If Reid Travis is not in the game the offense sputters and usually comes to a grinding halt. That’s because Travis initiates the offense from his post position, moves the ball out of the post to the open man on the wing and generally directs traffic in the paint area. He seems to be the only player on the floor for UK that understands how important continuous ball movement is to an offense that struggles to score from the three point line and can’t beat their defender off the dribble. When the ball stops, the offense stops.
This was evident again today against Seton Hall after Travis fouled out. At that point in the game PJ Washington was scoring at will against Seton Hall. The Pirates had to play the Cats straight up in the post area with both Travis and Washington in the game. Once Travis left with five fouls the Wildcat offense became stagnant with players standing around, no ball movement and finally someone would make a one on one move or throw up a three pointer. When Washington did receive the ball in the post he was immediately double and triple teamed in the paint. In crunch time they have to start getting the ball to their best offensive players in a position where they can easily score the ball. That is not usually at the top the key with a defender in their face.
With this loss UK is now nine games into the season and has yet to establish an identity as a team. Although touted as a great three point shooting team they have yet to prove it on a consistent basis. They also were thought to have a great inside game but so far with poor point guard play and spotty effort by Washington, Montgomery and Richards that has yet to materialize either. Right now they appear on the court to be five individuals wondering what they should be doing and when they should do it. The last ten seconds of overtime showed that they are not clear on what a great offensive set looks like and how they should execute it.
There is an old adage that says, “if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” In the case of the offensive execution for this year’s Wildcat team that seems very appropriate. So far whatever the teacher is teaching it is not getting picked up by the students. That doesn’t mean the students won’t learn in the future but right now it doesn’t appear that any type of offense that’s being taught by the coaches is sticking with the players.
The best bet for this team going forward would be to find five guys that can play lockdown defense and are willing to make all the hustle plays — rebound, grab loose balls and take charges — and try to create some offense out of defense. Generally when most teams focus on defense the offense comes around but when they focus on offense neither one comes around. And that’s what it looked like against Seton Hall – neither one came around.