By RICHARD CHEEKS
The game ended late, and by the time I could quiet my mind and sleep, it must have been 3 am. After some sleep, I want to reflect a little on what I think I saw last night from the Cats, and take a very quick peek ahead to Sunday evening’s war with North Carolina.
Defense was important, but not as significant last night as one might think or nearly as effective as one might have hoped. UCLA scored 75 points on only 65 possession, 1.153 points per possession. That is a huge number if one is looking for defensive effectiveness. In the game at Rupp, UCLA’s offense produced 97 points on 82 possessions, 1.183 ppp. So, there was some improvement, despite the high number.
The pace of the game was a huge advantage for the Cats, and while UCLA’s offensive efficiency for the game was high by any standard evaluating defensive performance, the UK defense forced UCLA to run offense most of the night, and limited them to only 65 possessions for the game when the first game in December had 82 possessions. That was impressive, and as we had discussed here all week, an essential ingredient for the Cats to win this game. The other keys to victory, according to our chattering this week would be rebounding.
What really impressed me last night was in the second half, UCLA made 8-9 from 2 point range and 4-8 from 3 point range (12-17 shooting) in the first 16 minutes yet UK extended its halftime lead from 3 to 11 points at the under 4 media timeout. They did this with a complete team game (yes Fox and Monk were the scorers for the most part) that did not allow a single UCLA offensive rebound or second chance point, and forced 7 UCLA turnovers in this 16 minutes. Add to this, UCLA only got to the free throw line twice, making 1 for 3.
The Cats shooting in this 16 minutes was not earth shattering, 9-18 from 2 point range and 5-11 from 3 point range (14-29 shooting). The Cats only got to the line 3 times in this time frame, making 4-5 free throws. The Cats only committed 1 turnover in this 16 minutes, got 5 offensive rebounds that produced 8 second chance points. The difference in number of shots, 17 for UCLA vs 29 for UK is due to the turnover margin and the offensive rebounding advantage.
Calipari has taken UK to 5 Elite 8 games in 7 previous seasons, and is 4-1 in those games, including the 2011 win over UNC after UNC had beaten the Cats in Chapel Hill earlier in the season. Like I said before, my heart clearly screams that UK advances to the Final Four again, but I see this as a much more difficult game for the Cats than UCLA.
Finally, I have been buying UK postseason stock for the entire season, and I am not about to move into a sell mode now! Go Cats, Beat the Heels! I believe the keys will be the same in this game. Contain the high powered UNC offense, be rebounding warriors, and force UNC to play at both ends of the court in a grind it out type of game. This formula will propel this team to the final four for the fifth time in Calipari’s eight seasons. If the Cats allow UNC to dictate pace, and own the boards as they usually do, I do not see another UK explosive offensive performance like Monk’s 47 likely to happen again.