After opening up very sluggish in Tuesday’s exhibition debut, Coach Cal’s Dominican team looked much sharper right out of the gate last night at NKU against Team Ignition, an off-season training group consisting of NBA D-League players based out of Cincinnati. Coach Cal’s starting five consisting of Al Horford, Eulis Baez, Jack Michael Martinez, Juan Coronadao, and Francisco Garcia jumped out to a 15 point lead and maintained a double digit lead for most of the first half. The story of the first half though was Edgar Sosa coming off the bench early in the game and seeing his first game action since last year’s injury. You could tell that he still probably wasn’t 100% healthy, but he ran the team well in 18 minutes of play, scoring 4 points and dishing out 3 assists. Sosa’s injury nearly a year ago was devastating at the time and thought to be potentially career ending, and it’s great to see the former Cardinal back in action and working his way back into the team’s rotation for this summer’s Olympic run.
Owning a 12 point lead at halftime, Coach Cal sat his starters for nearly all of the second half. Our very own Eloy Vargas was 1-for-1 from the field with 3 points, which all came on an impressive drive to the basket in which Eloy scored, was fouled, and made his free-throw. Vargas also grabbed 3 rebounds in 12 minutes of play, but at this point it is still questionable whether Eloy will make the final roster cuts before the FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament on July 2nd-8th in Venezuela. One roster spot that I do believe was clinched tonight was by 16-year old UK target Karl Towns, who scored 7 points in just 10 minutes of play early in the 2nd half. Towns scored a basket in the paint, drained a 3-point shot, and was 2-for-2 on the free thow line.
The Dominicans fell behind in the 4th quarter, but Calipari stuck with his reserve players even as the team fell behind by 8 points. It was clear that the players on the court in the 4th quarter were ones that were outside of the regular rotation of players and ones who were fighting for final roster spots. The fact that Karl Towns was not in the game in the 4th quarter, sitting on the bench with Horford, Garcia, Sosa, and others, indicate to me that Calipari plans to keep the 16-year old on the roster after an impressive 10 minutes of play in the 3rd quarter. I feel sorry for high schoolers that have to play against this kid for two more years. Towns spent much of his time on the bench in the 4th quarter talking with Coach Antigua, and the two seemed to already have formed a very close relationship.
With 40 seconds to go and down by 7, the Dominicans nailed a 3-point shot to cut the lead to 4 and immediately fouled afterwards. Team Ignition missed both free throws at the line and the Dominicans knocked down another 3-point shot to pull within 1 point with 15.8 seconds remaining. Team Ignition went to the free throw line again, this time making 1-of-2 attempts, and the Dominicans quickly tied the game up, driving to the basket and scoring. It was 95-95 with 10.8 seconds left and Team Ignition had a chance to win it at the end of regulation, but couldn’t get an inbounds pass off within 5 seconds, which gave the ball back to the Dominicans. The Dominicans turned the ball over, however, and Team Ignition put up the final shot which was no good. In overtime, Coach Cal continued to keep the reserves in the game while Horford and Garcia led the bench in cheering on the team to an impressive 103-99 win.
The team as a whole looked much improved from the night before. The starters dominated early on, and the reserves came up clutch in the end of regulation and in overtime to seal a victory. After playing only 7 players on Tuesday night, all 13 players played 10 minutes or more last night and each player scored, with nine players scoring 6 points or more. The Dominicans will return to Lexington for further training and will depart in July for Venezuala in their quest to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. Whether they are successful in doing that or not, they’ll get a chance at knocking off Coach K and Team USA on July 12th in Las Vegas.
Go Dominicans. Go Cats. Go Karl Towns.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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