The Wildcats fell at Tennessee for the third consecutive occasion last time out as No. 14 Kentucky was downed 76-64 by the No. 22 Vols. Losing on the road against a ranked opponent in conference play doesn’t mean it is time to write off the Wildcats chances of a national title this year. Having said that, head coach John Calipari will be looking for a nice bounce-back win against Texas A&M on Tuesday night.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Keep heads in the game
Kentucky was more than good enough to beat Tennessee, even in their own building. One of the main problems though was the Calipari couldn’t keep the right combinations of players on the floor due to some serious foul trouble.
The Wildcats were called for 23 personal fouls and a pair of technical as a team. The two Kentucky leading scorers entering the game – Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo – were held to a combined four points in the first half. They each picked up two fouls early, limiting their minutes and causing huge problems with their ability to settle into the game.
Wenyen Gabriel had impressive energy coming off of the bench, but even he couldn’t last against officials that were calling everything and he fouled out with 12 minutes to play.
It is all too easy to beat yourself in the game of college basketball. The Kentucky players need to learn from their foul trouble and not get into the same situation against the Aggies.
Show some toughness
We all know by now that Kentucky plays the skilled side of this game very well when given the chance to do so. The problem for the Wildcats has been that when a team gets tough and physical they often don’t seem up for the challenge. This is what Calipari had to say after the loss to Tennessee:
“I’ve got the toughness issue because people, what they do is they watch the tape and they say, ‘Just throw these guys around. They will not fight you back. Just throw ‘em and post ‘em hard. Go right at them. Don’t fade away. If a shot goes up, bum-rush them. Go rebound a missed shot. They’re going to let you run by them.”
Teams that win in March can do a little bit of everything. You cannot run the table in the NCAA Tournament by being a purely finesse team because you will bump into an opponent that will beat you with their physicality. Kentucky needs more of an inside presence and they need to develop that aspect of their game quickly.
Hydrate PJ Washington
Lost in the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hype over the past couple of weeks has been the consistently good play of PJ Washington. Washington has reached double-digits in scoring five times over the last seven games and has averaged 2.0 blocks per game in those contests.
Against Tennessee, the freshman forward was the best player on the court in the first half, regardless of team. He had scored 13 points on 6-of-8 from the field when he went down with leg cramps and was unable to return to the game. It was primarily the play of Washington that allowed the Cats to put together their 37-29 halftime lead.
Kentucky has a roster loaded with players that can break out for a game or two. What it doesn’t have is proven and consistent performers who can be relied upon for a certain level of production every time out. Washington has been one of those players and against a physically imposing Texas A&M squad the Wildcats have to have the forward available for all 40 minutes.