Kentucky Basketball: Highs and Lows of Wildcats' Season So Far
With a young roster that is growing and improving each day, the 2013-14 season has been a roller coaster so far for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Sitting at 12-3 with a No. 13 ranking, Kentucky is currently riding a four-game winning streak, including winning its first two conference games.
It hasn't been completely smooth sailing for Kentucky throughout the season, though. Whether it was a heart-breaking loss or players not performing the way Big Blue Nation expected, the season has had its peaks and valleys.
This slideshow will take a look at some of the high and low points so far in the 2013-14 Wildcats' season.
Low Losses on the Road
Kentucky piled up early-season wins, but none really stood out until almost the turn of the calendar.
This is in large part due to losses at North Carolina and against Baylor in Dallas.
In both games, Kentucky struggled and looked like a young team. Against North Carolina, an 82-77 loss, Kentucky turned the ball over 17 times. Most of these turnovers were due to quick passes and not reading the defense, which has been adjusted since then.
The Wildcats also committed 30 fouls, which lead to James Young and Alex Poythress fouling out. A common theme in losses, the Wildcats shot 29-of-43 from the free-throw line.
Against Baylor, it was a similar story.
While at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Kentucky dropped the game to Baylor 67-62. After jumping out to a 38-35 lead at halftime, Kentucky got outscored 32-24 in the second half. This included a run by Baylor after Kentucky extended its lead to nine points with 13 minutes left to play.
Kentucky also got out-rebounded by 16 against Baylor and shot a putrid 52 percent from the free-throw line.
Despite both games being away from Rupp Arena, both games were a letdown for Kentucky. The Wildcats were the better team on paper but didn't live up to their hype.
Lowly Starts to Games
Too many times this season Kentucky has looked slow from the tip, falling behind early in games.
Take for instance its recent game at home against Mississippi State. The Wildcats have fallen 12-2 against an inferior team before, but Kentucky was able to battle back before eventually dominating the game in the second half.
If this happens on the road or against a team closer to Kentucky's talent level, though, the Wildcats will find themselves out of the game before it even starts. While on the road in the SEC, Kentucky draws the largest crowds and always gets the best out of its opponents. By giving its opponents hope, Kentucky's slow starts can make the gym hostile and loud for all 40 minutes.
The fact of the matter is that Kentucky is too good to let inferior teams jump out to an early lead or hang around for too long.
The Wildcats need to always be ready to play—which head coach John Calipari is trying to instill in his players—and deflate opposing crowds early and often.
The Peak of a Rivalry
Any time you beat an arch-rival, it's a great win; however, this season's victory over Louisville was a little more important for Kentucky.
It was the last chance for a quality win out of SEC play. The game took place at Rupp Arena, and Kentucky was forced to play almost the entire second half without its best player, Julius Randle.
Randle was forced to miss nearly all of the second half due to leg cramps. The ability to defeat a talented team in Louisville even though they were shorthanded gave Kentucky a different kind of confidence heading into SEC play. Until that point, when Randle struggled, the Wildcats tended to look lost offensively. Since that half without Randle, though, Kentucky looks stronger offensively, as other players began to grow confident.
Most importantly, this was a confidence-building game for sophomore Alex Poythress. The Tennessee native played most of the minutes for Randle and finished the game with seven points and five rebounds. He played the game with arguably the most intensity Big Blue Nation has ever seen from him, and he played defense at a high level.
A High Development of Players
The Wildcats have seen a high development of players throughout the 2013-14 season so far; however, none have been more impressive than the growth of Willie Cauley-Stein.
The 7'0" sophomore, who came into Kentucky last season as a raw player that could really only dunk, rebound and block shots, Cauley-Stein is much more than that now.
Cauley-Stein currently averages 9.4 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and 3.7 blocks per game. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he leads the team with 1.1 steals per game.
He has continued to improve offensively as well, showing he is more than a person who can dunk like DeAndre Jordan. Cauley-Stein has developed a jump hook and a couple post moves that let him get to the rim pretty easily.
This has been one of the high points for both Kentucky and its fans this season, as Cauley-Stein has been one of the fan favorites. His defensive dominance is reminiscent of that of Nerlens Noel and Anthony Davis.