UConn gives UK beach blues

Nov. 24, 2010
Lahaina Civic Center; Lahaina, Maui.
LAHAINA, Maui - Kentucky came to the EA Sports Maui Invitational intent on learning about what kind of basketball team it had. The verdict? There's a long way to go.
Connecticut dominated the Cats in every aspect of the game, delivering an 84-67 knockout in the tournament's championship game in front of 2,400 at the Lahaina Civic Center. The Huskies rode Kemba Walker's sizzling drives to the basket and Alex Oriakhi's interior dominance to expose the Cats' flaws despite another brilliant performance by UK freshman forward Terrence Jones.
The Cats looked like their feet were encased in stone, getting blown by, rebounded over and left behind in the open court from the opening tip. UConn trailed for just 11 seconds in the first half, blowing the game open with a 21-2 spurt over the final 7:06 to claim a 50-29 halftime lead. UK made a push to start the second half and moved to within 13 but that was as close as it would get.
"That was a shellacking. We got in foul trouble in the first half and at the end of the half it got away from us. We were out played, out coached, out hustled, out everything. When you get down that much and you're tired because of three games in three days it's hard to come back."
"John's teams have been great at drive, draw and dish but we were able to take that away from them," -- UConn coach Jim Calhoun, on stopping the UK attack.
"We have to listen to coach and we have to get it right. It was all of us, the older players were doing the same things. We have to buckle down and take care of it in practices." -- Darius Miller, on Calipari saying the team played selfish basketball
Kentucky may have lost the championship game but it clearly found a potential superstar and the one player who can take the bull by the horns and lead this team. Terrence Jones was sensational for the third consecutive game, scoring 24 points and looking all but unguardable. The freshman forward made all four of his three-point attempts, hit 8-of-9 from the free throw line (which had been his weakness) and appeared to be the only UK player capable of consistently creating quality shots. For the tournament Jones averaged 23.0 points and 11.3 rebounds and was the only UK player named to the All-Tournament team.
Connecticut looked to be the superior team from the opening tip but Kentucky was still hanging around when it pulled within 29-27 on a Doron Lamb runner with 7:06 remaining in the first half. The Cats would get only one more field goal the rest of the way. Connecticut ripped off a 21-2 deluge heading into the break, turning a competitive game into a demolition. UK made one final run to pull within 13 with 13:00 left but UConn composed itself and pulled away with ease down the stretch.
Darius Miller has to be a maddening player for UK coach John Calipari. The junior forward has halves of basketball where he looks like he can be the dominant force the Cats need him to be in order to be an elite team, but he sprinkles that in with too many stretches where he completely disappears. Miller had a poor first half but rallied in the second half, became much more aggressive and finished with 15 points, making him the only UK player other than Jones to reach double figures.
The outcome was obviously not what Kentucky and its legions of fans who traveled to Maui wanted but with every loss comes an opportunity to learn, so the Cats had better find their No. 2 pencils. One thing they can take to heart is they didn't lay down after falling behind by 21 at the break, instead coming out of the locker room and taking the fight at UConn, drawing within 13 points before ultimately giving way to the Huskies' freight train. Still, Calipari wanted to leave Maui with an idea of what he's got and he got a full rundown of both the positives and negatives in three games.
57.7 - Connecticut did just about whatever it wanted on the offensive end of the floor, reducing UK's defense to standing idly by as the Huskies ran circles around it. The Huskies made 57.7 percent of their field goals for the game, the first opponent during John Calipari's tenure at Kentucky to make better than 50 percent from the field. Connecticut shot 45 percent against the Cats in last season's SEC-Big East Invitational in New York City's Madison Square Garden, a game the Cats won behind John Wall's heroics.
On the eve of the 2010 Maui Invitational, Kentucky coach John Calipari said everybody wants to win every game, but learning about your team is the real value to this tournament. Then perhaps UK should be thanking UConn? No doubt the Huskies showed the Cats lots of areas that need work following an 84-67 thrashing in the championship game Wednesday night. From boxing out to fighting through screens, both legal and illegal, there is much work to be done after Thanksgiving. Plus, we witnessed life with a freshman-dominated team in the first month of the season, looking like NBA prospects one day and wide-eyed, lost rookies the next.
Was this just a bump in the road, the by-product of the Cats playing three games in three days with a short roster and the emotional drainage of a game less than 24 hours prior or something more? The best guess is it was a confluence of unfortunate factors that led to Kentucky's demise but there were certainly areas of concern that had light shed on them in this loss. The Cats' post defense is suspect, it reverts to questionable shot selection when things get rough and lacks the experience to right itself at times. Even with all that, the Cats should take more positives out of this trip than negatives. The question is, will they learn from both?
Kentucky (4-1) returns from the island and takes a few days off before welcoming Boston University to Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.
Matt May is the basketball beat reporter for The Cats' Pause. If you have questions or comments about the Cats e-mail him here. You can also follow "@TCPMAY" on Twitter for live updates.