Cats’ defense will keep them competitive

Kentucky has lost by 11 or more points five times. All but two of their losses have been by at least nine points.

In most of the games the Cats have lost this season, they’ve been out of it late in the second half. That’s not going to happen anymore.

UK is definitely going to lose again this season — that’s for sure. But the Cats are going to be competitive in every game from here on out because of their defense.

They might blow some teams out, but they aren’t going to get blown out.

“I think that’s the most important thing in basketball because shots are not always going to go down,” Crawford said. “You have to rely on your defense.”

UK is third in the Southeastern Conference in points allowed. The Cats are yielding just 66.5 points per game. That number definitely went down after Saturday’s 62-52 win over Alabama at Rupp Arena.

The game, especially the second half, was a perfect example of UK’s outstanding defense.

The Cats locked down on Mykal Riley on the perimeter after he hit two 3-pointers in the first half. They also locked down on Alabama big men Justin Knox and Yamene Coleman. After scoring just 14 points in the first half, they combined for just two in the second half.

That was one of the main reasons Alabama, with less than two minutes left in the game, had scored just 15 points in the second half.

“Fifty-two points, that’s not going to win you a lot of basketball games,” said Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried. “That’s fairly obvious.”

To be sure, Alabama was without Richard Hendrix, the SEC’s third-leading scorer, but Gottfried downplayed his absence by saying, “You’re not going to reinvent the game with one guy out.”

The Cats had to deal with the same problem for most of the Georgia game and all of the Auburn game with Ramel Bradley out. Bradley returned from the viral infection and concussion against the Crimson Tide on Saturday, but for a major part of the game, he looked like he was still feeling the effects of his injuries.

He scored 19 points and hit a huge 3-pointer that sunk Alabama midway through the second half, but he had four turnovers and only one assist. He had a hard time getting into, and leading, the offense.

Bradley wasn’t the only UK player who struggled on offense. Actually, the entire team did. The Cats had 10 turnovers by the seven-minute mark of the first half, and they finished the game with 18.

But it didn’t matter. The guys who couldn’t play offense certainly played defense.

“It doesn’t matter if the game’s pretty or not,” sophomore forward Perry Stevenson said. “In fact, we want the game to be as ugly as possible.”

What does an ugly game look like, Perry?

“Tough defense,” Stevenson said. Moments before that, he said that means coming away from the game with “bumps and bruises.”

That’s the trademark of this team. And that’s what’s going to give them a chance to win every game this season.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected]