Kentucky showed up to play Baylor at AT&T Stadium on Friday night for a dress rehearsal for the Final Four that will be played in the house that Jerry Jones built in four months.
The Wildcats looked the part in warm-ups. All those future draft picks look the part on paper. But after a 67-62 loss to Baylor, they're a long way from getting back to the Jerry Dome in April.
A big part of John Calipari's championship blueprint is to get great players to play great defense. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and friends figured it out right away two years ago and finished as the clear-cut best team in America.
Calipari had athletes and size all over the court on that roster. They overwhelmed their opponents.
Calipari has athletes and size on this roster. They are built to be the aggressors, but they play like appeasers.
Shoot where you'd like. Rebound what you miss.
From the opening tip, Kentucky lacked the focus, attention to detail and the effort to beat a 20th-ranked Baylor team that isn't far off in the talent category.
Julius Randle is 6'9", averages a double-double and is one of the best rebounders in the country. Willie Cauley-Stein is 7'0" and as quick as a guard. Kentucky's shortest starter is 6'6". Yet somehow the Bears rebounded 18 of their 33 misses.
And that wasn't the worst of it.
The Bears scored on their first seven trips down the floor to open the game. During a 17-5 second-half run that erased a nine-point UK lead, Baylor scored on nine of 12 trips.
Baylor picked Kentucky apart with pick-and-rolls, a play the 'Cats looked like they'd never seen before. Nearly every ball screen led to a dunk or open jumper.
When Kentucky needed a stop in the final minute to stay in the game, Baylor coach Scott Drew drew up a side ball screen for point guard Kenny Chery. Randle switched on Chery and began to backpedal in the lane, playing defense on his heels. Chery calmly drained a 16-foot jumper to put Baylor up four and out of reach.
Kentucky could get the benefit of the doubt, because this game didn't start until 10:18 p.m. after the Baylor and Kentucky women played four overtimes. It was also played in front of a ton of empty seats because of bad weather that left a lot of fans who planned to travel stuck at home.
But this wasn't just one bad night.
Three times Calipari has taken his team on a big stage thus far: Michigan State in Chicago, Providence in Brooklyn and Baylor in Arlington. And three times the 'Cats have put up a defensive performance that wasn't exactly championship-worthy.
In 190 possessions against those three big-conference schools, they've allowed 210 points (1.11 points per possession) and forced only 26 turnovers. All of Baylor's 13 turnovers were self-inflicted, and UK has only four steals in those three games.
In the Wildcats' best defensive game of the three, they allowed Providence to score 1.07 points per possession. In 40 games in 2011-12, the champs allowed only six teams to reach that mark, according to KenPom.com (subscription needed).
It's not like Calipari doesn't have the parts. He has the rim-protector in Cauley-Stein. He has the elite rebounder in Randle. And he has big guards who should be able to contest every shot. They're built just like the champs were built.
But it wasn't just that those guys were bigger and better than everyone. They played defense every possession like the game was on the line.
If this group gets back to Arlington in April, they'll play the same way.
Calipari has a lot of coaching to do.
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