For 25 minutes, it seemed possible. Even after that, it seemed likely. Belmont was going to upset Kentucky.
A team that doesn't have any McDonald's All-Americans was leading a team with a plethora of them, more than any team has a right to possess. And not just leading. Belmont was making Kentucky look like a team that didn't know how to play together. They were showing what a well-coached team, who is patient and takes the extra pass for the best shot can do.
It didn't last though. The Bruins fell to the Wildcats 93-80 after giving up 52 points in the second half.
This really felt like a live by the three, die by the three game for Belmont. During the first half, the Bruins knocked down seven threes, led by Drew Windler who had 14 at the break, two more than his normal game average.
But he was held to just seven point in the second half, after Kentucky made the adjustment to stop leaving the Bruins' shooters open. The only other choice that Belmont had was to run out after a defensive rebound and attempt to get to the hoop before Kentucky could get back on defense (and there were many times that the Wildcats didn't get back).
Overall, the Bruins could not get the ball inside, could not slip by on a screen. They couldn't challenge the size and strength of the Cats, especially Willie Cauley-Stein, who had two blocks, a couple of goaltending calls, and yet committed just a single foul against Belmont.
That is how scared the Bruins were of Cauley-Stein. They couldn't even have him worried on the defensive end that he might no longer be able to get on the floor.
Belmont beat North Carolina earlier this season using the 3-pointer, but this is why Kentucky is different than North Carolina. The Wildcats made the adjustments at halftime. John Calipari taught his team how to defend the three. Instead of seven, the Bruins made just four triples after the break and finished shooting just 11-for-30 behind the arc as they could not make them fall in the second half.
And the inside belonged to Kentucky. Cauley-Stein and Julius Randle combined to go 16-for-20 from the floor. Randle made it to the free throw line 19 times and while he made just 13 of them, you can't let an opposing player shoot that many charity shots.
This was never going to be a fair game, and Belmont did its best to make up for that with its shooting from long range, but in the end, the disparity was just too much. Kentucky outrebounded the Bruins; they shot better at the free throw line (and more often); they were better at interior defense.
Belmont had to basically concede every missed shot to Kentucky to avoid getting into more fould trouble than they already were.
That adds up to a win, and dashed hopes that a Belmont team could score that second high-profile win of the year.
Windler finished with 21 points and six rebounds (all defensive) and Craig Bradshaw added 2 points and four assists in the loss. Evan Bradds came off the bench to go 5-for-5 from the floor and scored 12 overall.
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