That might be the best word to describe Kentucky’s 65-62 loss to Kansas in this year’s edition of the Champions Classic. Both teams experienced long scoreless droughts, mostly in the second half which neither squad eclipsed 30% shooting from the field.
For Kentucky specifically, their offensive woes really began with four minutes to go in the first half. Freshman forward Isaiah Jackson scored with 4:20 to go until halftime, and the Cats did not make another field goal until their were 13 minutes to go in the game. Once again, they fell short at the 3-point line often, going 3/21 from downtown for the game. After scoring 24 points in the paint in the first half, they had just six in the second, as they would fumble the ball in the lane amidst what became one-on-one offense all too often.
“You’ve got to run downhill. And when we did, we got to the rim and got layups,” UK Head Coach John Calipari said. “But, it’s hard because you’re going to get bumped. You’d rather pull it back and mess around with the ball and then you just look like you’re not a very good player. But, you know, they’ve got to go through this.”
The offense was often stagnant because of Kentucky’s inability to start with any rhythm whatsoever. UK point guards Devin Askew and Davion Mintz combined for just three assists with eight turnovers.
“We had 16 turnovers and eight from your point guards. You’re going to lose. Well, why did they have eight? Because they’re trying to make hard plays. Instead of making the easiest play and getting away from the ball,” Calipari said.
UK’s offensive struggles overshadowed their excellent defense. They held Kansas to just 30% shooting for the game, their best against a top-10 team since 2014, including 5/21 from three. Also, just two players for the Jayhawks even made a field goal in the second half. To give these statistics an even broader perspective, it was the first time in the John Calipari era that Kentucky lost to an opponent that shot worse than 33.3% from the field (Calipari was 72-0 in those games prior to tonight).
This loss also slightly overlooks the impressive outing that freshman forward Isaiah Jackson had — seven points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks. He is now the third player in school history to have at least 12 rebounds and eight blocks in a single game (Sam Bowie, Anthony Davis) and set a new school record for most blocks against a AP top-10 opponent. His presence around the rim might just be Kentucky’s greatest utility yet, and the Cats altogether had 12 blocks proving their daunting length inside.
Jackson still emphasized after the game that he and his teammates need to play with more energy, especially in the second half.
“We didn’t have any energy. I feel like we came out lackadaisical and no energy in the second half. And that’s something that we have to improve on and build on as the season continues,” he said.
No matter how you look at this game, Kentucky clearly has a lot of work to do. With that said, there is plenty of talent on the roster and they still are awaiting the return of sophomore Keion Brooks Jr.