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Another classic Julius Randle face (Photo © Kim Klement)
Well, out of all the weekends in Kentucky basketball history– this was certainly one of them (*Drew Franklin voice). Kentucky’s 22-9 regular season puttered across the finish line yesterday with a blow out loss to the #1 ranked Florida Gators on the road. Kentucky suffered its second largest margin of defeat in the John Calipari era, falling to Florida by 19 points. The lofty expectations for this team at the start of the season have quietly disappeared over the past month. When it’s all said and done though, judgment time has finally come. Kentucky will start its post-season bid in the SEC tournament on Friday night against the winner of Alabama and LSU. Talk is cheap at this point, and Kentucky will be in control of how they put the ink on the page to end this story. Let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly from the weekend.
1) UK Hoops make it to the SEC tournament championship, falling just short by 1-point to Tennessee
The UK Hoops team came up just short this weekend on a bit of a redemption tour in the women’s SEC tournament. The 12th ranked Cats reached the championship game against Tennessee by virtue of a win over the top seed, and top-5 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. Kentucky fell just short, dropping a heartbreaker to Tennessee by 1-point. The weekend was successful for Kentucky though, and likely provided just the right kind of momentum Matthew Mitchell’s squad needed heading into the NCAA tournament. Kentucky started the season on a high, beating a number of top ranked teams including Louisville and Baylor. Mitchell’s squad hit a major downward spiral mid-season, but climbed its way back into contention over the past few weeks. This weekend’s deep run in the SEC tournament capped off a major turnaround for a team hoping to capitalize on home court advantage to start the NCAA tournament. Good luck to the Cats as they await their NCAA tournament seeding.
2) Former Cats in the NBA balled out today
A host of former Kentucky Wildcats in the NBA made headlines today/tonight with dazzling performances. Anthony Davis led the way with 32 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 6 blocks. Davis becomes the first player 20 or younger with 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a single game since Shaq in 1992-1993.
Jodie Meeks had a career night for the lowly Lakers, pouring in 42 points on 6-11 shooting from behind the arc.
DeMarcus Cousins had an impressive double-double for the Kings, finishing with 28 points and 20 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo may have had the crazy stat line of all, dishing out a stunning 18 assists with ZERO turnovers. Can he come give our Kentucky team a few passing lessons?
3) The 16-0 run
Kentucky found a way to mount a scoring surge– ignited by the best 5 minutes of defense Kentucky has played in a while– that led to a 16-0 run against the #1 team in the country. A 16-0 run against any team is impressive, but especially against a team with as stingy of a defense as Florida’s. Kentucky wasn’t able to sustain the momentum, but the 5 minute stretch gave Kentucky a chance to pull within striking distance. For an offense that has looked awfully shaky lately, it was a brief beacon of light and hopefully something Kentucky can study on tape and take something from…
4) Dakari Johnson’s offense and energy
There weren’t a ton of bright spots in Saturday’s game, but Dakari Johnson provided a few encouraging moments. Johnson’s energy off the bench was inspiring, and no player on the team seems to bring more fire to the court than Johnson these days. Calipari was so impressed by his performance that he admitted after the game that Dakari needs to (and will from now on) be starting. Calipari said he is the only guy out there “having fun.” Dakari has shown a knack for finishing with his back to the basket lately, and gives Kentucky a decent go-to option in the post when the offense has stalled.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Kentucky wasn’t great on Saturday by any stretch of the imagination, but that Florida team is good. The Gators are firing on all cylinders right now, and have the necessary pieces to make a Final 4 run or more. Florida’s defense is unrelenting. Florida has 3-point shooting threats, and post players who can score in the paint. Florida also has a veteran guard in Scottie Wilbekin who knows how to pull the strings to get his team going. Wilbekin always seems to make the right play when the Gators need it the most. For two games now this season against Kentucky, Wilbekin has been the guy who quieted Kentucky’s run and essentially ended any hopes of an upset bid.
1) The First Half
I don’t think we need to break this down too much. The defense was bad. The offense was nearly non-existent aside from James Young. The effort was hit or miss. The energy was lacking. Overall, it was frustrating.
2) Kentucky’s SEC tournament draw
Well, this could go many ways actually. Some might say Kentucky got a good draw. Some might disagree. Kentucky managed to avoid Tennessee and Florida (two of the hottest teams in the SEC right now), but found itself with a potential first game of the tourney against an LSU team that seems to have Kentucky’s number. There’s no sugar-coating it… LSU is a bad match up for Kentucky. If the theory holds though that it’s really difficult to beat a team 3 times in a row, maybe Kentucky will figure it out this time around.
3) Kentucky’s offense and Kentucky’s free throws
Kentucky’s offense, other than a 5-minute stretch, struggled mightily on Saturday. Granted, some of that was due to Florida’s impressive defense. But Kentucky didn’t look in sync for much of the game. Kentucky had 14 turnovers, but it felt like even more than that. Kentucky was 15-25 from the line for another head-scratching free throw performance.
4) Patrick Patterson’s injury
A big round of well wishes from the Big Blue Nation for Patrick Patterson, who will miss 7-10 days with a sprained right elbow.
1) Kentucky’s shot selection in crucial moments
This wasn’t the first game that Kentucky failed to seize an opportunity by putting together multiple possessions in a row that ended with bad shot selection. The Florida game was no different. When Kentucky pulled within 6, the next few possessions were bad. Really bad. Calipari called the shots “throws,” hardly able to contain his disgust in the post-game interviews. Kentucky forced two early shots in the shot clock that allowed Florida a couple of easy baskets. And by then, a game seemingly within reach, completely got away from the Cats.
2) The psyche… of everyone
I’m not sure where the team’s psyche stands right now. I’m not sure where Big Blue Nation’s psyche stands right now. I’m not sure where my psyche stands right now. There was something very telling in Julius Randle’s post-game quote, “We’ve got to get this thing going. We don’t know what we’ve got to do, but we’ve got to get it going.”
His words had a sense of desperation to them… Like a team that sees the finish line coming way too fast. Time has all but run out for this Kentucky team to “figure it out.” The SEC tournament COULD provide a chance for Kentucky to put together a little run, or to find something within themselves to push for a positive ending to this up and down season. This season has been disappointing for everyone involved. And I mean everyone. I think Cal thought this team was going to be the team to get #9… or at least have a really legitimate shot at doing so. The fans were practically foaming at the mouth when Big Blue Madness rolled around. The players talked about championship dreams. The national media pumped some air into the balloon of expectation as well. Everyone saw this going differently. Whether or not Kentucky was ever going to win a national championship with this group or not, I don’t think anyone saw things going THIS way.
As Aaron Harrison said… this team still has a chance to write a different ending, a good ending, for this story. But can it happen?
With the regular season in the book, it’s on to the postseason. Kentucky hasn’t had the season that we all thought they would have, but that’s in the past. Put every bad loss behind you and look on to competing in the SEC tournament. Part of Kentucky’s problem is that they are Kentucky. They get every team’s best shot in every game on the schedule, no matter what caliber of team they are. I noticed over the season that players seem to have had career highs against Kentucky. I was also curious about how a certain team’s best performer against Kentucky faired in the game prior to the matchup with Kentucky and the game following it. Would they have an equally good game or would they have a Kentucky hangover? I went back to all of Kentucky’s losses to find out.
|Opponent||Top Performer||Points Before UK||Points Against UK||Points Following Game|
|Michigan State||Keith Appling||11||22||3|
|LSU||Johnny O’ Bryant III||18||29||23|
|South Carolina||Brenton Williams||7||24||26|
For the most part, players would have an average game before they played Kentucky, have a really good or career game against Kentucky, and then keep up that level of play. With Kentucky playing Friday in the SEC tournament, you can almost guarantee whoever they play will bring their A game. Now, It’s time for Kentucky to bring their A game. Go CATS!
(Via Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
As kids, we would call “do over” when something didn’t work out the way we expected. The postseason is hopefully a “do over” for the Kentucky basketball team. Of course, it’ll take more than saying it to make it happen.
A veteran-laden team like Florida exposes Kentucky’s defensive lapses better than most opponents. The best example of that came after the Cats cut a 21-point halftime lead to six with 12 minutes remaining. Scottie Wilbekin swished a dagger of a three-point shot when the Cats misplayed a pick-and-roll situation (a play that was a key element of the scouting report but which UK defenders struggled to execute frequently).
But defense has never been this team’s strong suit at any point this season. However, until the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season, the Wildcats ranked in or just outside the nation’s top 10 in offensive efficiency. So I looked at arguably the best stretch of the season for UK, threes games during the holiday break in which the Cats handled two conference champions and then blew out an SEC foe.
Against Belmont, Louisville (the only ranked team UK has beaten) and Mississippi State, Kentucky averaged 84 points per game and averaged getting 47 points per game in the paint. In those three contests, UK shot 59 percent on attempts inside the three-point line, averaged only 10 turnovers per game and outscored their opponents by an average of nine points a night on second-chance points.
One of the few positives out of the thumping at Florida on Saturday was the offensive performance in the second half. UK shot 54 percent from the field, including 58 percent on two-point shots. They had only three turnovers (with four assists), outscored Florida by five on second-chance points and 28-18 on points-in-the-paint. You’ll notice that those numbers match up quite well with that late December-early January stretch.
Until Julius Randle came alive late in the first half, Kentucky was slogging through yet another sub-30 percent first half of shooting. When you miss as many shots as the Cats have been missing, you look tentative, timid or whatever other word one wants to use.
Kentucky’s best hope for having some fun in March is to keep playing offense the way it did in the second half against the Gators, while hopefully coming to a better understanding of time-and-score situations, to know the difference good shots and bad shots. At least twice after cutting that lead to six and putting some pressure on the Gators, UK players took a shot six seconds into a possession. And there were at least four scoreless possessions when a UK player drew a crowd of defenders, only to force a bad shot rather than finding teammates who were open and should have been visible.
Dakari Johnson’s low post scoring is something to build on, as is getting Randle an opportunity to work in space more often (taking and making a few jumpers would do wonders for him in that area). During that highly-productive stretch we referenced earlier, Alex Poythress averaged nine points per game and it would be nice to see him get back to dunking as many balls as possible (he has only one during this late-season offensive slide).
–listen to Tom each weekday morning at 9:06am eastern on “The Leach Report” radio network
–check out tomleachky.com for more of Tom’s coverage of the Cats and follow Tom on Twitter @tomleachky and @leachreport + via Facebook for “The Leach Report”
With the major conference tournament starting this week and the NCAA tournament just around the corner, the best month in college basketball has begun. With all of the action going on around the country, it can be tough to keep up. Here’s a breakdown of the major conference tournament brackets (with the exception of the Big 10, which still has games in play) as well as the most recent “Bubble Watch” from Joe Lunardi.
The Toronto Raptors will be without Patrick Patterson for the next 7-10 days, as the former Wildcat has suffered a sprained right elbow. A Raptors spokesman made the announcement just hours before they tip-off with the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. Toronto’s coach, Dwane Casey, mentioned that Patterson’s arm had been bothering for a couple of weeks now. He aggravated it again during their 99-87 victory over his former team, the Sacramento Kings. After Patterson agreed to have it evaluated, management decided to give him some time off to let it heal. “Only thing is rest that’s going to heal it and that’s unfortunate for us,” Casey said.
Losing Patterson will hurt the Raptors, as their depth at the forward position simply isn’t there. With the playoff race heating up, the Raptors need to get every win that they can to improve their seed. Since acquiring Pat Pat on Dec. 9th, they have taken off behind his strong play as their 6th man. As a Raptor, Patterson is averaging 9.7 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game, playing about 24 minutes a night. In his absence, Toronto will have to rely on fellow reserve, Tyler Hansbrough, whose averages are barely half of Patterson’s. While Patterson’s stats aren’t the best, his help mainly comes from his defensive tenacity. “We still have guys that we can go to, but Pat just brings a different dynamic from all the other bigs on the team,” says teammate, John Salmons. He gets his teammates working harder, especially the other reserves when they replace the starters. Add on a 44% shooting average from the three-point line, and that makes him a big contributor for Toronto.
We wish you well Patrick, hope to see you back on the court soon!
Today, Jodie Meeks woke up feeling it. He knew he had to bring his A-game, as his Los Angeles Lakers were hosting Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jodie lead the Lakers to a 114-110 victory, scoring an amazing 42 points. He made 11 of 18 shots from the field for 61.1 %, and nailed 6 of 11 three point shots for a killer 54.5 %. From the charity stripe, Meeks was perfect, cashing in all 14 of 14 free throw attempts.
It was the most points he had scored in a single game since the historic 54 point-game he put up against Tennessee in 2009. I remember that day all too well, and watching part of his game today reminded me of one of the better days for Kentucky basketball. To round out the game, Meeks also had 4 steals and 2 rebounds. On the year, he is averaging 14.8 points per game, a career high so far.
In the NBA, scoring over 40 points is a huge deal, especially while playing for the LA Lakers. Normally kids yell “Kobe” as they shoot their fade-aways. Tonight, a few of them may be yelling “Jodie” after his stellar performance.
In a performance for the ages, the 12th ranked Kentucky women’s basketball team fell just short of their first SEC Tournament Championship in 32 years, losing to the 6th ranked Tennessee Volunteers 71-70. “We have a team heading into the NCAA Tournament, and I think we’ve accomplished that. A lot of people thought we were dead in the water but we’re not, we’re ready to roll. I’m glad I’m coaching Kentucky.”
About midway through the second half, after Kentucky had maintained a single-digit lead for the majority of the game…the tides turned. Double technicals were called on the Cats and the Vols TWICE and the refs completely changed not only the momentum, but the entire flow of the game. Here’s what Coach Mitchell had to say about it…
“Changed it a lot. 11 for Tennessee (Cierra Burdick) was starting that activity in the game. If you don’t get control of that, and you have competitive players in the game…it’s not the first time it’s happened with that player. I noticed it early on. It’s a loud arena, it’s a tough game, I guess they didn’t see it. It just boiled over into what it was and now you’re getting into who said what first. It should be stopped in the beginning of that activity, and it was not. I was very disappointed in how that affected the game and I think it could have been stopped. It certainly got Samarie upset and I think DeNesha tried to have composure. That’s not what I want to see in the SEC Championship game.”
Despite the disappointing, gut wrenching loss, the season is young for the Kentucky Wildcats. After a dismantled and disjointed conference season left many scratching their heads about the future of this UK Hoops team, these past three days in Duluth, Georgia were everything we as Cats fans expected to see and more. “I’m proud to coach em, I wouldn’t trade locker rooms right now with anyone in the country. Everyone had us in the coffin and throwin’ dirt on us after we left Gainesville (Cats were 5-5 at the time in the SEC), but now we have a team. It’s a great great feeling to be coaching Kentucky right now. That’s a bunch of players out there who are very upset, very down.
Stallworth had a monstrous game inside against the Tennessee bigs. The senior scored 21 points with five rebounds against one of the most illustrious front-courts in the nation. She, and the rest of the team, were teary eyed following the loss but had a positive outlook on the finish. In the past when the Cats lost in the SEC Championship (so tired of it) UK just laid and egg and did not perform up to par. This year, that was not the case, the team knows they played extremely well and unified, and one single point is all that separates them from happiness.
Up next? The NCAA Tournament. Selection for the Big Dance is not till next Monday, so the Cats have some time to think about this one, digest it, and move on. UK is hosting the first and second rounds in Memorial Coliseum, so that’s a plus, and when asked what seed he expects to get, Mitchell quipped “someone told me they had us at a 4-seed and I think that’s a joke…but it’s not up to me.”
More on the matter tomorrow but I need time to breathe and Hayley and I have to get back home. Peace n’ blessings.
In case you missed it Thursday, an NCAA panel has approved changes to the “targeting” rule. If you remember, almost every bang-bang play like the one above – which resulted in an ejection for UK’s Eric Dixon – was an immediate flag and 15 yard penalty. After throwing the flag, the replay official would review the play and deem whether the player in violation lead with the helmet or not. If the player did lead with his helmet, he would be ejected/disqualified for the next two halves to be played, which in Dixon’s case, was the 2nd half of the Vandy game and first half against Georgia. What confused everyone was the way the rule could be overturned. If the official felt that the play was not in violation of the rule, the player would not be ejected, however, the 15-yard penalty would still stand.
Finally someone in the NCAA committee has come to their senses and realized how stupid that sounds. Now if a “targeting” violation is overturned, the player will remain in the game and there will be no 15-yard penalty. 15-yards could be the difference between a defensive stand or a field goal for the opposing team. Knowing that the NCAA allowed teams to have an extra 15-yards for no reason is crazy. One such instance occurred during the South Carolina vs. UCF game. Gamecock Brison Williams had a good, head up – shoulder first hit on UCF’s Jeff Godfrey. The play resulted in a “targeting” personal foul, giving UCF a free 15-yards, even after the play was overturned upon review. It was almost as if the NCAA was penalizing the defense for a delay of game. At least they fixed it before next season. It really didn’t make any sense at all, but now defenses won’t have to worry about losing field position as long as they remember to not lead with the helmet.
Its a big basketball afternoon for the Cats as the women are locked in a battle with Tennessee (up 5 with 5 to go as I write this) and Jodie Meeks is off to a career game with the Lakers. He has 36 points with four minutes to go in the third quarter. Between Jodie and the UK Hoops team, you should have some basketball joy (finally) this afternoon.
After dropping the series opener with two costly late game errors, the Cats mounted a furious offensive attack in final two games to take the series against Ball State. The Cats scored a combined 58 runs in the series (a school record), outscored the Cardinals 50-4 over the last two games and scored a total of 76 runs in five games this week. Senior catcher Micheal Thomas asserted himself as the early favorite for SEC Player of the Week with two three-run homeruns and 13 RBI in a 8-for-13 weekend. A.J. Reed also belted his nation leading 8th homerun and 28th RBI in the series.
Fri: UK 8, Ball State 10
Two late errors, one each ninth and tenth innings, doomed UK in the series opener. The Cats took a 8-5 lead into the ninth after rallying from a two-run deficit earlier in the game. A two-out error by third baseman Max Kuhn allowed the tying run to score in the ninth and the Cardinals scored the winning run in the tenth on a wild pitch. The Cats had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth but Austin Cousino struck out with the bases loaded. A.J. Reed took a hard luck no-decision as he worked eight innings, allowing five runs (two earned) on three hits, struck out three and exited in line for the win with a three run lead. Sophomore Ryne Combs was hung with his first loss of the season as he allowed two unearned runs on two hits in the tenth. The Cats were led offensively by senior catcher Micheal Thomas who went 4-for-6 with three RBI. Reed and sophomore Ka’ai Tom added to UK’s run total with two RBI apiece.
Sat: UK 24, Ball State 1
There was no lasting hangover from the disappointing Friday night loss as the Cats scored early and often in a 23 run route of Ball State to even the weekend series. A.J Reed put the Cats on the board with a leadoff homerun, his nation leading eighth, to begin what would become a six run second inning as the Cats chased Ball State’s ace and the 2014 preseason & 2013 MAC Pitcher of the Year. UK got another career day from catcher Micheal Thomas who went 3-for-4, including a two run double and three run homerun, as he racked up a career high six RBI. Third baseman Max Kuhn knocked in three runs while leadoff man Kyle Barrett and left fielder Dorian Hairston each knocked in two. Starter Chandler Shepherd worked seven innings and allowed one unearned run on just two hits and struck-out a career high eight.
Sun: UK 26, Ball State 3
Once again the Cats wasted no time scoring early and often in a 26-3 series clenching victory. Senior catcher Micheal Thomas continued his torrid weekend as he hit his second three run blast in as many games and drove in another four runs to give him 13 RBI total for the series. The Cats also got clutch hits early in the game from Dorian Hairston, who had two, two-out RBI and Max Kuhn, who hit his first homerun of the season, a two-out, two-run blast in the fourth. Kyle Barrett and A.J. Reed extended their hitting streaks to 18 games, with Reed’s hit coming on his nation leading 28th RBI of the season in the sixth inning. Junior Andrew Nelson got the spot start in place of Kyle Cody and worked six and two-thirds innings, giving up one run on five hits and struck-out four in his second career start and first career victory.
The Cats will have two midweek games next week, traveling to Bloomington to take on the 12th ranked Hoosiers on Tuesday and hosting Northern Kentucky on Wednesday before traveling to Tuscaloosa to open up SEC play against the Tide next weekend.
By Kory Henry on ©4:00 pm
Saturday Down South, a site devoted to SEC football, is currently ranking the SEC’s potential instant impact freshmen by ranking them from No. 31 down to No. 1, all month long. Kentucky’s newest face of the program, Drew Barker, made the list at No. 23. Barker is definitely expected to compete for UK’s starting job at quarterback, especially given that he’s been with the team since January. SDS lists Barker as the 119th best high school prospect of this class, which is based on 247sports.com’s rankings. The following is the full rundown for their 23rd potential instant impact newcomer, Drew Barker.
THE SKINNY: Six of the 14 SEC schools wanted Barker, and South Carolina nearly got him. But he decided to stay home and try to build something special at Kentucky, and his presence as a top national QB and top in-state product helped in recruiting. Barker threw for 2,700 yards and 33 touchdowns last fall and rushed for nearly 900 yards and 9 TDs.
WHERE HE’LL MAKE AN IMPACT: Barker was on campus in January and will be a part of spring drills this year, and Maxwell Smith–who has taken a lot of snaps at QB the past few years at Kentucky–is injured and will miss valuable time. The competition seems to be wide open for the QB position, and let’s face it: This is Stoops’ chosen guy. Don’t be surprised if he’s starting this fall.
BARKER TELLS SDS: “At the end of the day I sat down and thought what would it be like if I went to South Carolina and I looked over to UK and they are doing great thinks and I can think, ‘Oh man, I really missed out on that.’ The vibe is just completely different. They’ve upped everything and went to new paths people didn’t think Kentucky football can go to.”
COACH SAYS: “A guy who’s very important to us and this program because he’s one of the best players in the state and we all know how important it is lock down your own state and to start the recruiting within your state.” — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops
Also making the list was Kentucky’s newest defensive lineman, Cory Johnson. Johnson was named the No. 26 newcomer just a few days ago. Why does SDS think he’ll make an immediate impact? “Johnson will be an immediate impact guy, thanks to his explosive “burst” as defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot put it. He’s a big guy with all kinds of athleticism, which is exactly what a defensive coach like Mark Stoops wants.” – Saturday Down South
When the 2013 Kentucky recruiting class was put together, some wondered aloud whether it was the greatest ever assembled in the history of college basketball:
Six 5-star prospects, including the top-rated point guard, shooting guard, power forward and center.
247Sports national basketball recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer says that at least on paper, it very well may have been.
“When I talked about the Kentucky class, my point was that on paper, when you look at the numbers, I don’t think anyone had brought in a class ranked as high as these guys,” Meyer said.
But as we all know, paper doesn’t play, as the Wildcats closed the regular season with an 84-65 loss at top-ranked Florida Saturday, ending the year at 22-9, 12-6 in the SEC.
Following in the footsteps of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, we’ve all seen what freshmen at Kentucky are capable of. That track record, particularly for Big Blue Nation, has skewed the idea and warped the vision of what a typical college freshman is supposed to look like.
That dynamic has definitely exacerbated the gap between expectation and reality but as Meyer points out, not all 5-star prospects are created equal.
“We’re finding out that the 2013 class is not as strong as we thought it was,” Meyer said. “But it’s all relative to the competition.”
Even still, at least individually, this latest bumper crop of Kentucky freshmen have each had their moments but the label of greatest recruiting class ever hasn’t translated to much collective success on the court this season.
For more on the individual seasons of Kentucky’s freshmen, visit CatsPause.com