Coming off a disappointing loss to Baylor where their defense, quite simply, let them down, Kentucky faced a not insignificant test Tuesday night against a Boise State team that was leading the nation in scoring.
A 70-55 win later and the Wildcats simultaneously answered the question of how they would bounce back from a loss and if they could D up a talented offensive team.
It wasn't perfect (19 turnovers will attest to that), but it was an impressive showing on both ends of the court.
Offensively the team seems to be settling in. James Young is finding his groove, Julius Randle continues to be a matchup nightmare, Aaron Harrison is proving more and more impressive each game and his brother Andrew has started making some really good, strong drives to the basket where he uses his size and stays in control.
Couple that with Willie Cauley-Stein blocking seemingly everything in sight down low and Calipari basically saying "screw it" and having his insanely athletic team switch on anything at the perimeter, Kentucky is slowly but surely starting to find their identity.
With a team this naturally talented, the offense will come. Kentucky has four guys they can go to at any time and get a bucket, and their backups aren't too shabby either.
The key moving forward is making sure they can get the same kind of defensive showing every time they take the court. The plan to switch on everything worked against Boise State, but will it have the same kind of success against teams like UNC and Louisville?
Whether they switch or not, the important thing is that the players are decisive in their actions and talk to each other on defense. Jay Bilas noted Tuesday night how quiet it was because nobody was talking on defense. If you're doing the same thing every time, like switching, it's less important to talk. But if it's a question whether or not the guards will fight through the screen or switch, there has to be communication.
Julius Randle, as amazing as he's been on offense and on the boards, has been a bit of a defensive sore spot for this Kentucky team.
Let's take a look at a few examples from the first half:
In this instance, Randle's man screens the defender and Randle must make a decision to either show on defense and give his teammate a chance to get back or just commit to the switch entirely. He gets caught in no-man's land and ends up getting taken to the basket for a layup.
Once again, we see Randle get caught on a screen where he's not committing enough one way or the other. He's laying back too much and allows the Boise State player to drive on him once more and get the bucket.
This time, the problem is about intensity and awareness. Seconds earlier, Randle tried to jump the passing lane for a steal, but no pass was made. So he settles back into his spot and starts ball watching. Randle's man drifts towards the ball and is able to hit a wide open three by the time Randle gets back on defense.
These are isolated incidents, but good examples of how there's still work to be done on the defensive side of the ball. Communication and decisiveness is a lot to ask of a group of freshmen, but John Calipari has done it before to great success.
Last, but not least, Kentucky needs to stop watching Willie Cauley-Stein on defense. He's getting up in the air and either blocking or changing shot after shot, but his teammates aren't helping enough around him while it's going on.
They need to continue to block out their men and anticipate the rebound. Boise State's 14 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points are a clear indication there there is still progress to be made here.
The Boise State game showed some great potential both offensively and defensively, but Kentucky also had a great showing on both ends against Providence before unraveling against Baylor. They still need to buy in completely.
This was a good start, but the next few games are going to show just how dedicated they are to taking things to the next level.