The team that gave Kentucky their most difficult 40 minutes of basketball so far this season? The Columbia Lions, almost escaping with a win from the Rupp Arena, eventually losing 56-46 despite a very good first half which exposed some weaknesses in the Wildcats’ system.
John Calipari didn’t say it after the game, but his players didn’t take their opponents seriously. The defense was lazy and tired and so was their thinking on offense. A little bit of screaming and shouting in the locker room during half time probably fixed that issue, but Kentucky were still stuck in a very slow pace Columbia were forcing, unable to create the turnovers (only 10 for Columbia) they so easily score points off of on most nights.
Andrew Harrison scored just 4 points on 1-of-12 from the field and Aaron Harrison didn’t do too well early but eventually found his bearings, finishing with 14 points. While Calipari had options to use off the bench in the front court, feeling frustrated with the kind of defense his big men were playing for most of the the game, his options are little less varied when it comes to guards. The Harrison twins won’t get a lot of rest this season, which might explain why they looked so tired in the win.
Willie Cauley-Stein scored 10 points to go with 10 rebounds but he was another player who found it difficult to complete his assignments. Columbia eventually shot just 18-of-48 from the field and 8-of-25 from beyond the arc, but their corner 3’s, slow ball movement and patience helped them build a 25-23 lead at half time. Kentucky finally getting and generating some pace on offense through an improved defensive effort in the second half helped them create separation.
This was the closest game Kentucky have been involved in this season and comes a few days before a big showdown with North Carolina at home. Their previous game against a ranked team, Texas, wasn’t very easy to go through, unlike their early season showdown against Kansas highlighting how good this team can be.
If the number one team in the country needed a wake up call before their more serious games against the Tar Heels, Louisville and eventually the beginning of the SEC season, Columbia provided an excellent spark and warning call for a group of talented young men who might have been getting a little bit too complacent.