As I sat on media row keeping track of various story lines developing throughout the evening at Rupp Arena on Saturday night, which included everything from Diallo’s entrance with the team to Bruce Pearl’s shirt(s), I found myself focusing on two distinct points to focus upon:
At the end of the night, there were over forty foul calls made during the game, with most of them resulting from minimal contact.
Depending on your viewpoint, this can be a good or a bad thing.
Kentucky was given thirty two free throw attempts and only connected on seventeen of them. This was particularly ironic due to Kentucky having a hot shooting hand already, as the Cats hit eleven of nineteen attempts from three point territory.
Auburn didn’t miss out on the SEC officiating either, as they attempted fifteen free throws, but they only connected on five of them.
So Kentucky made more free throws than Auburn, what’s the issue?
The issue is that Kentucky allowed Auburn to hang with them for far too long. Had they connected on free attempts at points at the line, they could have secured their lead long before the final five minutes of the game. An incredible career high performance from Auburn’s T.J. Dunans that included ten consecutive points also kept Auburn alive. Kentucky gave up several clear lane lay ups that could have been contested a little stronger, but I can’t blame the Cats for that, as they were probably worried about their foul situation. With Isaiah Briscoe sitting on four fouls and De’Aaron Fox fouling out, the Cats had to play conservatively on the defensive end.
Auburn had their own foul trouble as well, as a matter of fact, nineteen players played on Saturday at Rupp, and only three walked away without being called for a personal foul.
Coach Calipari preached that these young Wildcats are still very undisciplined in their fouls and offense, and from reading the stat line and watching the game Saturday, you can see why he still believes this team is not ready for March just yet.
The Cats have several issues to improve on before the NCAA Tournament. After this game, my biggest concern is the ability to capitalize on opportunity. If the SEC officials are going to continue to call a foul on any contact, Kentucky has to take advantage of the free throws they attempt. If Kentucky allows better teams to hang with them so closely for so long, they may put themselves into a position that is more difficult than they can handle.
Kentucky has the talent to compete offensively, but they have to be more disciplined in their defensive approach to keep the game flow at the pace they prefer. By controlling the tempo and seizing every opportunity at the free throw line, they can build a lead and add to it instead of trying to fight off comeback attempts from teams in the tournament looking to give the Cats their best shot each night.
There was a stretch in the game where it seemed as if five or so consecutive possessions ended with a trip to the line. This slowed the pace of the game dramatically. The second half seemed to drag on, and this not only effected the crowd, but it also effected the Cats who look to run and score at a much faster pace.
Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, announced last week that he is going to review ways to speed up the end of game situations in the NBA. This is mainly due to fans who change the channel when a team down by fifteen points continues to foul their opponent with less than a minute remaining. This is something that the NCAA should review as well. Something has to be done to clearly define what warrants a foul call, and when fouls should be reset. Some argue that team fouls could be sped up with a four quarter game style instead of two halves, but others say that isn’t the solution.
Until the NCAA or NBA comes up with an effective solution, it appears the Cats are going to have to adapt and thrive in slow game situations where their offense is slowed.
Their biggest moments in spring may come at the free throw line, as opposed to a highlight reel play that we are used to.