A few questions about both Kentucky and Washington in UK's win tonight. To outline some initial thoughts:
Can Kentucky contend with a legitimate big man?
UW center Matthew Bryan-Amaning had been looking far more assertive thus far this season and there might have been some concern among some UK fans about how well they would defend someone like him. Foul trouble aside, they did an effective job neutralizing him. They held him to 3-for-11 shooting - two of which came on fast break dunks - by swarming him whenever he touched the ball on the block. That was no small part of his five turnovers. As unfortunate an outcome as that was for UW, UK's defense deserves credit.
Who would win the rebounding battle?
Neither team was dominant on the boards against their first round opponent in the Maui Invitational and so although UW has been a strong rebounding team, there was some question about who would win on the boards head to head. And ultimately, the athleticism of Terrence Jones on the offensive boards was enough to overwhelm the Huskies. But it wasn't Jones alone - Josh Harrellson also found himself with 14 rebounds and a game-high seven offensive rebounds.
How will UW's perimeter defense hold up against stronger competition?
UW had literally "scared" previous opponents into submission. However, UK freshman Brandon Knight proved himself to be as fearless as he is business-like in the face of the Huskies' pressure but not as a distributor - although he struggled with eight turnovers, he showed that he could break down UW defenders when UK needed him to, finishing with a game-high 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting. That's no reason for panic, but repeated penetration on the night loosened up the UW defense and forced them into a scrambling position on occasion that led to leaving players uncontested for offensive rebounds.
Who would win a battle between experienced depth and youth star power?
Thus far this season, the Huskies have been lauded for their versatility while UK has relied heavily on their trio of freshmen (Jones, Knight and Doron Lamb). Normally, when things aren't going right for UW, they find production elsewhere and often from multiple places. Tonight, they struggled to find consistent production from anyone much less two to three players. Although one could have watched the game and immediately blamed UW's half court execution, again UK's defense deserves credit - they were just out-quicked the Huskies on the wing in denial defense situations and forced a lot of one-on-one basketball. With Huskies star Isaiah Thomas struggling (4-for-14 from the field), there was not anyone to bail them out of bad situations.
What can we learn about the Huskies from this matchup against the Wildcats?
It was said prior to the game here and at A Sea of Blue - win or lose, it would be hard to say anything conclusive about either team. It's just too early in the season right now. Although the Huskies have depth, it's still difficult to determine who the team can rely upon when Isaiah Thomas is off. Although they're a very good defensive team that can force turnovers, some of their rotations lagged and UK got the penetration they needed for Knight to beat them as a scorer when he was rather inefficient as a distributor. Aside from the bad start and a rough patch during the middle of the second half, the game was very closely and intensely contested - but certainly not beautiful - basketball. Should we expect this game to look the same if these teams were to meet again in March? Absolutely not.
Perhaps what we have now - after this loss as well as yesterday's win - is a better sense of the Huskies' actual strengths and ares for improvement after dominating clearly overmatched opponents. Perhaps it will temper Final Four talk that was already a bit of a shaky claim, but it certainly shouldn't result in fatalistic thinking about the Huskies season.