It was a strange night and a strange basketball game Tuesday at Rupp. There was cursing, there were technicals, the Dykesisms were out of control and ESPN’s telecast was just plain odd. Nevertheless, the Cats emerged victorious and can now focus on finishing the season’s final five regular season games on a roll. Damn, I said roll. Renardo Sidney already left town, right?
A few notes…
– If the thing that’s talked about the most following the game has little to do with the actual basketball, that is probably a pretty significant problem. One night after they served a salty dish of distraction complete with Bob Knight’s commentary and little boxes on the side of the screen with video of the coaches, ESPN kicked it up a notch and smacked you with the SkyCam, which made you feel like you were the homeless lady in Home Alone 2 watching from the rafters. Except twice as drunk. As a rule, it’s generally a bad decision to do anything that increases the ability to see down Renardo Sidney’s shirt and the SkyCam certainly failed miserably. The view made it nearly impossible to see if a shot was heading in, where a rebound was going and, often times, where 2-3 players were on the court. At halftime, an ESPN camera operator acknowledged it was “brutal”, but said they were instructed to use it. It seemed to disappear in the second half and we can only hope that wasn’t an accident.
– If there was a turning point in the game or something that you can point your finger at as a reason for victory, it was the Mississippi State meltdown shortly before half, which was aided by Rick Stansbury picking up a technical. As he crossed midcourt, Brandon Knight anticipated a foul and pulled up for a shot – something Cal had instructed him to do on the previous play – and went to the line for three free throws. As if that mental blunder wasn’t enough, the leader of the traveling circus picked up a completely unneccessary technical and came dangerously close to being ejected. Knight knocked down four of the five ensuing free throws and the Cats went into the intermission down only one and with momentum on their side. It proved to be the turning point in the game. In the past two weeks, Calipari has preached to his team that they aren’t losing close games at the end, but rather in short stretches of errors late in the first half. I hope Stansbury saved that Lexy message so he can play it for his team.
– With Mississippi State fighting to come back and make a push, Brandon Knight again stood tall and pushed his team toward victory. In a six-minute stretch beginning at 9:46 in the second half with the Cats’ lead cut to five, the freshman guard scored 11 of the team’s 21 points and assisted on 8 more. He plays with the unfortunate burden of John Wall’s shadow lingering over him and, as he’s done so many times before, he looked very much like #11 in taking over the game and setting his teammates up for easy buckets. He still might not be as vocal as Calipari would like, but there’s no question as to who the leader is on the floor and who the Cats can count on when they need a burst. It’s a role that he looked uncomfortable in playing early in the year, but he now seems to have found a way to let that killer instinct take over when his team needs it. Great game on Tuesday.
– After struggling the last three games in posting 7 points per contest on 33% shooting, Doron Lamb responded to his start Tuesday by playing a team-high 38 minutes and notching 20 points. More importantly, Lamb played with a fire that Calipari had begged to see from him, stepping up on defense and jawing with Dee Bost throughout the game. When Kentucky has clicked this season, it has generally been in the games that Lamb has scored his points. He did that Tuesday, while also adding a little bit of the extra stuff Calipari has been looking for from him. That’s a positive sign for a team looking for reasons to be optimistic down the stretch.
– It wasn’t the finest evening of work for DeAndre Liggins, who finished with 2 points and 3 rebounds in only 15 minutes – his smallest amount of playing time this season. Offensive struggles aside, for the first time this season he didn’t seem to get the job done defensively, which resulted in fewer minutes. After the game, Calipari said Liggins “wasn’t there”, but said he expects him to bounce back just fine Saturday against South Carolina. As Cal said, everyone has their off nights and Tuesday was Liggins’.
– Sore gonads and all, Darius Miller played a solid game offensively. The junior from Maysville connected on 5-9 shots from the field, his best shooting game since South Carolina, and gave the Cats 33 noticeable minutes after being listed as questionable.
– I don’t really know what needs to be said about it, but it should at least be mentioned that Eloy missed a dunk and then committed a foul. And then went to the bench, never to be heard from again. Josh Harrellson stayed out of foul trouble and the Cats were able to go small when Terrence Jones got his fourth, so he wasn’t needed, but it was Eloy being Eloy. You know how people say if you’re nervous, you should imagine everyone in their underwear? Eloy should imagine everyone in a Florida jersey.
– It was a tough night for Jon Hood. After two days of build-up of a potential breakout game, Hood checked into the ballgame in the second half and logged about 10 seconds of actual game time as Mississippi State hit a three (not over him) and then he was yanked. If tonight was not the night that he’s able to get in and make a difference and he’s getting pulled after a bad possession that he had little to do with, you have to wonder if our continued optimism that he can work his way into the rotation by the postseason is misplaced.
– Looking to give his team a spark after they started out sluggish, Coach Cal went with a press and the Cats seemed to respond. After the game, UK’s head man said that the only reason he changed the defense was so he could see who was going to get up and challenge people defensively and so he could sub out the guys that wouldn’t do it. He was frustrated with his team’s start, which he called “passive” and “ugly” and said “That team meeting didn’t really do what it was supposed to, I guess.” Boom! Roasted!
– We’ll get into this more when it’s not so late and there’s more space to devote to it, but the perimeter defense was pretty terrible. Kentucky was leaving shooters open, not stopping the drive and getting caught under screens when they were supposed to be going over the top of them. Calipari repeated what he’s always said about the three-point shot, calling it “fool’s gold” and saying that he believes that his team generally defends it pretty well.
– Despite all of the positives, Kentucky was again plagued by the inability to close out the game, allowing a 13-point lead with three and a half minutes to go dwindle to four with under a minute left. They struggled to inbound the ball and committed horrible turnovers. They couldn’t make free throws. They took bad shots. They were fortunate to have built a big enough lead that the game never came down to the final possessions, but the concerns remain as to whether or not they can adequately finish off an opponent.
– Finally, in the postgame, Calipari took a subtle jab at Louisville coach Rick Pitino (or at least it appeared so), when he said, “”I’m not the kind of coach like some that says ‘we don’t have good players so look how I coached.'” Boom! Roasted again!
That’s it for now. Stick around Wednesday as we break down all of the excitement that was the victory over Mississippi State and continue to admire and love ESPN’s SkyCam. See you in a few…