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WHY KENTUCKY LOST

Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas – It certainly wasn’t a total shock that Wisconsin was able to beat Kentucky, 71-64, in their national semi-final game on Saturday.  But, an upset?  Absolutely.

What happened?  Was it the athleticism of Sam Dekker?  The offense and defense of Frank Kaminsky?  Or was it the poor play of Kentucky’s guards in not being able to get their star (now recognized  — better late than never – by virtually everybody), Karl-Anthony Towns, the ball in the post down the stretch?

Well, it was all of the above.  But the least discussed and, it says here, the most important, was Kentucky’s inability to get Towns the ball in the post.

POINT GUARD PLAY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Once upon a time, at all levels of basketball, if you had a big man who had an edge in talent and/or physical size, point guards were routinely taught to “give it to the big man,” especially if it was a guy like Towns, that is, a guy who plays hard, rebounds, runs the floor, can use both hands (a lost skill), etc.

In the “old days” of the 20th Century, guards were taught to pound it inside and, if someone on defense played good overplay defense the first time you looked in, guards were taught to look in a second or even a third time to get the ball to “the bigs.”

Now more of a nuanced play, virtually all guards trying to get the ball down low to the big guy take one look at them and, if he’s “covered,” they simply swing the ball around the other way.  The patience in guard play has long ago left the building.

A TALE OF TWO GAMES

Let’s take a look at Kentucky’s final two games of the season from this perspective – first the Notre Dame game, which they almost lost and then the Wisconsin game, which they did lose.

The final eight minutes of both games shows the difference – for this Kentucky team – between winning and losing.

Against Notre Dame, Towns was in the game for nine of the final 11 possessions (he was in foul trouble and coach John Calipari played offense/defense a few times so Towns wasn’t in the game for two of those 11 possessions).  In those nine possessions, Towns got the ball in the post ELEVEN times (on two possessions, they threw it down to him in the post twice).

In those possessions, Towns scored four baskets (including one three-point play) and passed out of a double team to a wide-open Tyler Ulis for an open three.

Towns was, without question, the key to Kentucky’s comeback victory.

So, what happened against Wisconsin?  Kentucky’s guards, after feeding Towns at will in the Notre Dame game, totally went away from him.  In Kentucky’s  (almost) final 13 possessions (not counting the final two, where they threw the ball away at midcourt and took a long, meaningless three at the buzzer), Towns got the ball in the post a grand total of THREE times.

While the game analysts correctly pointed out that Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin’s excellent big man, was doing a good job “challenging” Towns, what they never said was that Kentucky’s guards, after looking in once, never looked in again in each possession, never realized that Towns was still fighting for position, never realized that Towns did get open, literally a second or two after Kaminsky had shut off the potential post pass.

This was the (offensive) death knell for Kentucky.  By not being patient and getting the ball into Towns, it led to an eight-foot airball from Andrew Harrison on one possession and a 12-foot airball from Aaron Harrison as the shot clock was ending on another possession (and a poor shot that barely hit the front rim on still another possession).  That’s separate and apart from the airball three from Aaron Harrison very late in the game.

On the three touches that Towns did get, he scored on Kaminsky, he was stripped by Kaminsky (who was helping Dekker, who was guarding Towns on that particular possession), with Kentucky recovering the loose ball, and he was fouled by Kaminsky, making one of two free throws.

While it is subtle and nuanced in today’s game, the inability of Kentucky’s guards to get Towns the ball down low towards the end of the game was the reason Kentucky lost the game.  While Notre Dame had nobody like Kaminsky to guard Towns in the post, the “give-up” nature of the guards whenever Kaminsky overplayed Towns took Towns pretty much out of the game (although, to Towns’s credit, he had a number of offensive rebounds down the stretch).

From the time Towns scored with 6:35 left in the game until Kentucky’s next field goal with :56.2 seconds left, Towns touched the ball in the low post exactly once.

Game over.

WHAT ABOUT THE SHOT CLOCK VIOLATION THAT WASN’T?

Kentucly fans will correctly complain about Nigel Hayes’s basket with 2:40 left.  Clearly it was a shot-clock violation.  But Kentucky had earlier gotten away with a clear flagrant foul by Trey Lyles (which was reviewed and inexplicably not assessed).

I’ve never been one to say that these things even out (because they don’t).  There should be a way that potential shot-clock violations are reviewed throughout the game.

Would that have made a difference?  Well, we’ll never know.  But, if reviewed, Kentucky would have been up two with the ball instead of tied.  Wisconsin still had to win the game.

And Kentucky still had to lose it.

This, of course, goes directly to coaching.  If Calipari didn’t tell his guards to get Towns the ball, and, if he was overplayed initially by Kaminsky, to try again (and even again with a 35-seconde shot clock), he made a huge mistake.  If he did tell them and they didn’t do it, then he should have put someone else into the game who would do it.

During the possession around the 1:25 mark, Kentucky inexplicably posted up Lyles (as opposed to Towns).  Wisconsin virtually let him get the ball and, frustrated at the other end by Sam Dekker (more on that shortly), he simply ran Dekker over for a crucial offensive foul.

 WHY WISCONSIN WON OFFENSIVELY

While, for some reason, Frank Kaminsky seemed to have been given most of the credit for Wisconsin’s victory (maybe because he was so much better this year than last?), it was, without question, Sam Dekker’s athleticism and talent that lifted Wisconsin and won the game for them.

Calipari didn’t seem to understand that Trey Lyles couldn’t guard Dekker.  Dekker took Lyles to the basket with about 4:27 left with a stunning drive to cut Kentucky’s lead to two.  Then he hit a step-back three with 1:41 left to put Wisconsin up three.  Finally, he blew right by Lyles to get to the basket and get fouled (admittedly a phantom foul) by Aaron Harrison.  Dekker made one of two with 1:06 left to make the game a two-possession game.  Dekker also took that huge charge from Lyles down the stretch.

While Kentucky would cut it to one with 56 seconds left, they would never get back over the hump.

NEXT YEAR FOR KENTUCKY

A tough pill to swallow for Kentucky but, it says here, Wisconsin deserved to win the game.

While there probably won’t be a next time for Karl-Anthony Towns at Kentucky, maybe next year Kentucky will work more on getting there guards to get the ball to their best players down low – and, if at first they don’t succeed, try, try again.

© Copyright 2015 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

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