1) Simply put, Kentucky was the better team. There's no two ways around it. They shot twice as well as Providence from the field (64% to the Friars' 31%), outmuscled the Friars on the boards (35 to 30), had almost four times as many blocks (11 to 3), and dished the ball better (12 assists to 8). The Friars only excelled over the Wildcats in a few areas - they attacked the offensive boards better with 18 offensive rebounds to Kentucky's seven, and they only turned the ball over six times compared to Kentucky's 14. The offensive rebounds stat becomes somewhat meaningless given how well Kentucky shot from the field. Outside of the box score Kentucky looked smoother. They attacked the rim, shot the ball phenomenally, and forced Providence out of their comfort zone several times, particularly Kadeem Batts (but more on that in a minute). Providence fought hard and made sure Kentucky had to wrestle away the win, but once Kentucky found its poise in the second half, Providence had little control over the game.
2) That said, the good news is Providence will not play another team nearly as complete as Kentucky for the remainder of the season. That was far and away the biggest challenge the Friars had on the schedule. It was a neutral site (but really more of a Kentucky home game since they were listed as the home team and had the home team benefits), a late night game after a holiday and another game a few days earlier. On top of that, there may not be another team in the country with as much raw talent as Kentucky, and when the Wildcats click they're dangerous. If Providence can put together a full 40 minutes the way the first half was played they should have their share of success in the Big East, with or without Kris Dunn, Brandon Austin, and Rodney Bullock.
3) And speaking of the three missing players, this may be a controversial opinion but this team can make their NCAA bid without them. It will be harder, but given how well this team played in the first half without them there is reason to be hopeful. Believe it or not part of the success will fall on the shoulders of whether or not Josh Fortune will be able to rise up and assume a role outside of his comfort zone. This is putting stock in faith rather than history with Fortune, but now that he's a year older and has a better understanding of how a college season plays out, and combined with Ed Cooley's ability to develop talent, there's at least some foundation to believe that Fortune can make a jump in his game in the second half of the season and help fill a role if Dunn, Austin, and Bullock are still out.
4) While fans wait to see if that will happen or not it was good to see Bryce Cotton back to his old self. Although he didn't have the best shooting night of his career (7-21 from the field) Cotton did finish the game with 23 points, more than double any other Friar, and made shots when they were most critical in the game. Being asked to assume point guard responsibilities takes away from his game, but seeing him hit shots again (after some subpar performances in the Virgin Islands) was reassuring that he can find a balance.
5) Kadeem Batts, on the other hand, didn't play the game fans had hoped he would. Batts struggled on offense due to Kentucky's length, forcing the forward to shoot the ball at a much higher arc to avoid getting blocked. This resulted in a 3-14 night from the field. However, Batts did finish with a team-high eight rebounds, and showed that he could compete against the best the country has to offer in front court talent. You could see the frustration start to build with Batts by the end of the night as miss after miss clanked around the rim and backboard, and that resulted in some mistakes, but Batts didn't give up fighting until he had to sit on the bench after fouling out.
6) Tyler Harris had a convincing night that showed why he would be considered an elite talent. He was aggressive on both ends of the floor and made plays for himself. Harris is in love with getting the ball in the corner of the perimeter and either driving for a layup or pulling up for a shot. If it isn't broke don't fix it though, and with Harris that may be a good go-to for him to help generate some offense. His reverse layup under the hoop was particularly impressive.
Wildcats Tame Friars
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