Kentucky Gets Huge Win on Road
Stay In Hunt For NCAA Play

Game Preview:

In the aftermath of Kentucky's second three game losing skid of the season, and prior to the mid-week encountered with the Georgia Bulldogs at Rupp, Coach Tubby Smith reported to the press and fans that his frustrations with the team led him to return to practice and coaching techniques appropriate to new seasons. The Cats will get a new beginning, a final attempt to salvage something of value from an otherwise dismal year of basketball in Lexington. These final six games, and whatever post-season participation these six games may or may not secure for this team, will be a new season.

Well, the UK players apparently took Coach's directives literally. Last night saw a return to the tendencies that this team displayed so frequently in November and December, strong defensive effort, but pitiful offense efficiency. Consider that during the UK non-conference schedule, their average defensive efficiency was a strong 0.771 points per possession, but during the SEC schedule prior to last night's game, UK 's average defensive efficiency was 0.954 ppp. Last night, the UK defensive effort was an impressive 0.735 ppp, the best single game defensive performance since Georgia State .

Offensively, the Cats were literally walking in their sleep during their non-conference schedule, posting an average efficiency of 0.849 ppp while during the SEC schedule prior to last night, they had averaged an amazingly strong 0.923 ppp. Last night, the offensive efficiency fell off the radar screen to 0.764 ppp, the worst offensive performance since the Kansas game [last non-conference opponent of this season].

It does appear that this particular team [coaches and players together] are not able to play defense and offense efficiently in the same game, the old walking and chewing gum syndrome. Nonetheless, the Cats did use Georgia to snap a three-game losing skid for the second time this season. Now, Kentucky takes its rediscovered winning ways on the road to Columbia , South Carolina for a rematch with the Gamecocks. In their first encounter in January at Rupp, Kentucky trailed USC for most of the second half, by as much as 9 points, but the Cats escaped with the win on last second heroics by Sparks [a 3 pointer from the parking lot] and Rondo [a 3 pointer prayer at the buzzer] to defeat the Gamecocks by 2 points, 80-78. The last meeting of these teams saw either great offense, or absolutely no defense by either team. UK's offensive efficiency was 1.143 ppp, scoring 80 points in just 70 possessions, and USC's offensive efficiency was 1.083 ppp, scoring 78 points on only 72 possessions.

The USC SEC season has been a split personality. When they left Lexington with that bitter taste of defeat, their SEC record stood at 1-4. Among their four loses were the last second 2 point defeat at Rupp, two overtime losses to Georgia and at USC, and a 7 point loss to probable SEC Champion Tennessee. However, since leaving Lexington , USC has won 4 of their last 6 games, with an impressive sweep of Florida and an 11 point victory over Alabama . They have lost a second time to Tennessee and to Arkansas . Therefore, Saturday's rematch of USC and Kentucky will pit a team on the upswing against a team that has all but surrendered any desire to finish out the current season.

A UK win over USC on Saturday will move UK into solid hold on 3 rd place in the SEC East at 7-5, and virtually assure the Cats of a winning SEC regular season, and USC's recent success will fade away as they fall to 4 th or ever 5 th in the East. However, an USC victory over the Cats [if their margin is at least 2 points] will move them into 3 rd place, and place UK back onto the skids they have been suffering through most of this season.

USC has been more effective offensively this season than the Cats [0.938 ppp v. 0.872 ppp] and UK is a slightly stronger defensive team [0.846 ppp v. 0.862 ppp]. UK has averaged 81 possessions per game, while holding its opponents to only 78 possessions per game due to a +3 average offensive rebounding margin per game. USC averages 74 possessions per game this season, and USC's opponents average 74 possessions per game. These teams should play today's game in the lower 70s pace.

USC currently has a Net Game Efficiency for the year of 0.076 ppp while UK 's current NGE stands at an anemic, season low 0.025 ppp. USC has played a stronger schedule than Kentucky to this point of the season [0.5942 v 0.5831].

The Pros in Vegas say USC will defeat Kentucky Saturday by 4 points, 68-64. The Net Game Efficiency analysis, adjusted for schedule strength and venue suggests a USC win over Kentucky , 72-62.

UK's victory over Georgia on Wednesday night ended their most recent 3 game losing streak, but that return to the W column will be short lived, and will not lead to a repeat of the 5 game win streak they enjoyed following the end of their first three game streak of losses. To defeat the Gamecocks, UK must put together a game at both ends of the court, a feat that has eluded this team most of this season, and that they have not achieved in a game since the Louisville game.

The First Half:

The game begins with a flurry of possessions in the first segment that produces relatively few points, and UK eases out to a 6-4 lead by the first TV Time out. Each team commits 1 turnover, and both are shooting poorly. Turnovers have plagued both teams in the second segment. However, UK corrected its early poor shooting, and eased further to the lead, 12-6, as the second game segment came to a close. UK came out of the time out with a steal and a basket to extend their lead to 8, but they the Gamecocks came alive, and decided they would engage the fight after all. USC scored the next 9 points to take their first lead of the game, 15-14, as the third game segment ended on another UK turnover, their 6 th of the game in this early going. This game is being played at a pace in the upper 70s to lower 80s.

Out of the timeout, UK retook the lead on a couple of Obrzut free throws, but USC then score the next 5, forcing a UK timeout. The 4 segment ended with USC holding to a 4 point lead, 22-18, and the teams played out the half to a 28-25 lead for USC.

The first game between these teams this season was marked by the incredibly high offense [or virtually no defense] by both teams. Today, the offenses have been icy in comparison that earlier game [or both teams have found their defensive identities]. The first half pace is equivalent to a lower to mid 70s.

USC won 2 of the 5 game segments and the other three segments were equivalents. UK scored its 25 points on only 37 possessions [0.676 ppp] and USC scored its 28 points on 36 possessions, 0.778 points per possession for the half.

Of UK's 37 first half possessions, 5 came by virtue of its offensive rebounding that produced 6 second chance points. USC earned 3 bonus possessions created by its offensive rebounding that produced 2-second chance points. UK had a pitiful offensive efficiency on its first chance possessions, of 0.594 ppp on its 32 first chance possessions and a high, but limited 1.200 ppp for its 5-second chance possessions. USC had a 0.788 ppp on its 33 first chance possessions and a poor, but also limited 0.667 ppp on its 3-second chance possessions.

USC made all three of its free throw attempts [100.0%] while UK converted 7 of its 10 attempts from the line [700%]. Kentucky out rebounded USC in the first half, 15-8, and Kentucky won the battle of the offensive boards, 5-3. The field goal shooting was solid for UK and USC today from inside the arc, but from beyond the line, both teams threw up bricks. From inside the arc, USC shot a solid 57.9% [11-19] and a pitiful 1-11 from beyond the arc [9.1%]. Kentucky was 9-14 [64.3%] inside the arc and a total blank on 8 attempts 0-8 [0.0%] from outside the arc. The game pace is equivalent to 74 possessions for UK and 72 possessions for USC .


Today: the first team to score its 55 th point will win this game. UK needs to score 30 more points in the second half to reach this level before USC can score 27 points in this race to 55 points. UK scored its 55 th point of the game on a 3 pointer by Sparks with about 7:30 to play in the game to move UK up 56-45. UK played out the remainder of the clock to secure the victory 79-66.

The Second Half:

UK came out for the second half with the eye of an eagle, scoring 15 points on its 8 possessions of the first segment. In contrast, USC only scored 4 points on its first 10 possessions, and at the under 16 time out, UK lead 40-32. The onslaught continued to the under 12 time out, with UK expanding its lead to 49-37. In the second half, UK has outscored USC 24-9, on 9-11 shooting, while holding USC to only 9 points on 14 possessions and 3-11 shooting. The middle segment of the second half was protracted and extended to the 6:15 mark of the game with UK leading 59-47. During this incredible offense explosion, Patrick Sparks has been the catalyst, hitting 5-5 from beyond the arc. After throwing bricks in the first half, UK has shot the ball nearly perfectly in the second half, 13-18. At the under 4 TV time out, UK owns an impressive 11 point lead, 62-51.

I would prefer to have a team that can exert the same average level of dominance more uniformly over the entire course of a game. However, make no mistake, this is UK 's most impressive overall game of the year, on both ends of the court. UK has had better offensive games, and better defensive games, but have not put the two together this season until today.

The Outcome:

Kentucky won the battle of the boards for the game, 35-29, but USC won the battle of the offensive boards 12-7. USC grabbed a weak 30.0% of its misses as offensive rebounds while UK grabbed a below average 29.2% of its misses. UK scored 79 points on its 72 possessions [1.097 ppp] while USC scored its 66 points using a total of 79 possessions [0.835 ppp]. Kentucky committed 12 turnovers to USC 's 9 for the game.

Kentucky had 65 first chance possessions in which they scored 71 points, 1.092 ppp while they scored 8 points on their 7-second chance possessions, 1.143 ppp. USC had 67 first chance possessions on which they scored 64 points, 0.955 ppp while they scored 2 second chance points on their 12 second chance possessions, 0.167 ppp.

Tonight UK shot the ball above their season average from the field for the game. From the field, UK shot 60.0% [21-35] inside the arc, and an excellent 8-17 from beyond the arc [47.1%] for a combined shooting percentage of 55.8%. The Free throw shooting was better in terms of percentage on an average number of opportunities, 13-17 [76.5%]. USC shot below their season average from the field today. From inside the arc, USC hit 46.3% [19-41] and from long range, USC hit only 26.1% [6-23]. USC's free throw shooting was excellent, 10-13 [76.9%]. Kentucky committed one turnover for every 6.0 possessions while forcing a turnover in every 8.7 possessions. Last year, in comparison, these turnover rates were 6.2 and 4.6 respectively for the season.

I predicted a Kentucky loss to USC today, 72-62. The predicted v. actual offensive efficiencies were 0.809 and 1.097 ppp respectively for a A effort on offense. The predicted v. actual defensive efficiencies were 0.952 and 0.835 ppp respectively for a B- on defense.


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