A few final notes on what was a fun night at Rupp Arena for a team that looks to have bounced back and taken a much-awaited step forward in their quest for cohesion before postseason…
– Yesterday, I had one of those “This hurts me more than it hurts you” moments when I wrote that Josh Harrellson had to figure out how to get back on track and, at the very least, find a way to stay on the court and not commit fouls. Against the Vols and a player who could have presented problems in Brian Williams, Jorts went above and beyond that bare minimum and gave the Cats 16 points and 6 rebounds and, most importantly, 30 productive minutes. After the game, Calipari said that Harrellson’s struggles were tied to two weeks of bad practice, but he had put together two great ones before Tuesday’s game and even told his coach during the Super Bowl Sunday that he was ready to bounce back and get things going again. He is a man of his word. It was a game so good, it almost makes me feel bad about the picture at the top of this post, which will most certainly be used for a caption contest at some point.
– Harrellson wasn’t the only veteran who stepped up against Tennesse, though, as DeAndre Liggins was what Calipari called “fabulous”. On Monday, Calipari said that he wanted the junior wing to take 8-10 shots per game and he did that against Tennessee, making 5-6 from the field and getting to the line to make 7-8 free throws. He even gave credence to Calipari’s claim that he’s the best long distance shooter in practice and knocked down a pair of threes, after making only one in the last five games. He added his trademark defense in putting together his most complete game of the season. After spending the majority of the season speculating that Darius Miller was the guy who needed to be the third offensive option for this team, Liggins again asserted himself as the potential answer to that question.
– Speaking of Darius Miller, he also put together a nice game, despite shooting only 1-7 and having a couple of spells of disappearing. What you have to look for from Miller is how he responds when he’s not getting points and, often, he’s not contributing much. That was not the case Monday against Tennessee as the junior from Maysville rebounded the ball and stood strong on defense, guarding Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson for different stretches of the game. Offensively, he continued to attack the basket, though his shot wasn’t falling and looked to have confidence in himself again. He’s a guy who will get shots to fall. His confidence, as well as the ability to give Calipari a reason to keep him on the court during those struggles have been his weakness. Against Tennessee, he looked strong in both areas.
– It wasn’t the greatest night for Terrence Jones, who, as Calipari joked, got near a triple-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 8 turnovers. Cal did say that he was pleased with his commitment to rebounding the ball, but he struggled to make shots inside and again had problems in passing the ball, though he did have a beautiful assist wiped off the board for a charge. Jones will be fine. What is important that in the game he struggled (along with Brandon Knight), the Cats were still able to win thanks to their veteran players.
– Over the course of the past few weeks, Calipari has said several times that this team has not quite clicked in the way that last year’s squad did. Tuesday night, they looked to be a unified unit moreso than they have at any point. The offense was fluid and they made the necessary passes without making the extra pass (if that makes sense) and they rebounded as a team. This looked like a team against Tennessee instead of a group of guys trying to play together.
– Along that same line, the defense was outstanding against the Vols. Though they were sloppy early on, committing 11 turnovers in the game’s first nine minutes, the Cats still were able to build a lead by clamping down on the Vols on the defensive end. I don’t know what the official stat was, but they seemed to be forcing turnovers and converting them to fast break points better than they have in any game this season. Even more incredible is that they were able to stay out of foul trouble (except for Knight in the first half). They still had their lulls, allowing the Vols to creep back into the game just before halftime and making a few runs in the second half, but they stood tall defensively when the heat turned up and kept the game from ever truly being close. It was a total team defensive effort against the Vols and it allowed them to make up for a lot of missed shots and sloppy play of their own on offense.
– As was expected with Tony Greene and “TV” Teddy Valentine, the officiating was inconsistent for the majority of the game. The Cats played through it, which is a sign of a veteran team, and adjusted to avoid getting in foul trouble. The highlight of the officiating frustrations came in the first half after the DeAndre Liggins was called for a block after clearly taking a charge and Calipari had his mandated interview with ESPN sideline reporter Shannon Spake. She asked what Kentucky needed to do and he pointed at where the foul was called and said “Keep taking charges like that,” before smiling slyly. I hope Billy Gillispie was taking notes.
– After the game, Tennessee’s Josh Bone said this about the Cats: “They punked us.” That immediately joins Bobby Maze’s Ferrari and Range Rover quote in the rivalry Hall of Fame.
– In a pivotal game for the Cats, the Rupp Arena crowd was great. They were loud and directed a lot of heat at Scotty Hopson and Bruce Pearl, who engaged in some verbal sparring with some fans at halftime and had the police called over to try to have the fan removed from the game. I don’t know what the specifics were, but the fans were on Pearl all night, including a “Barbeque” chant in the first half.
– Let’s play word association: The Nail. Go.
– Finally, if you have any pictures of your signs from the game against Tennessee, email them to me at email@example.com. I’d like to put the best ones on the site.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned on Wednesday as we continue to celebrate a great night in Rupp and a spoiled return for Bruce Pearl and those low down, dirty snitches. As usual, Matt and Zach will get the fun going at 10am on Talk Radio 1080. Make sure you check it out. See you in a few…