Following Kentucky’s win over Tennessee on Tuesday night, John Calipari said he can’t see this team being up 20 on anybody. Tonight, his team walked off the court in Auburn Arena with a 22-point victory after leading by as many as 27. The Cats went down to Auburn without Willie Cauley-Stein and “womped” the Tigers, 75-53.
It was a balanced attack from the razor thin Kentucky lineup in what was arguably the Wildcats’ best all-around game of the season. Yes, you can say Auburn isn’t any good, which may be true, but the boys in blue took a step forward when many wondered how they would respond to playing on the road, in another team’s Super Bowl, with one of the starters back in Lexington.
Let’s talk about it, quickly. It’s a Saturday night.
Before we celebrate how strong the team looked for the last 31 minutes of the game, let’s at least acknowledge how ugly it was for the first nine. Kentucky came out firing from beyond the three-point line, only to find a lot of iron and no net during that stretch. UK missed its first eight three-point attempts as part of a 2-for-14 drought to start the game, including 11 consecutive missed shots. The Cats only had four points in the first nine minutes until a Ryan Harrow layup got things rolling. Luckily, Auburn wasn’t doing any scoring on the other end, either.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk positives. Exhibit A:
Nerlens asked the smaller Auburn defender, “Mind if I rest these here on top of your head? No? Well I’m going to anyway.”
If I told you before the game that Nerlens Noel would only play 11 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and he’d pick up his third in the opening minute of the second half, you’d probably be a little concerned about the outcome of the game. However, Nerlens’ foul trouble, though a little frustrating at the time, wasn’t much of an issue. The big guy still managed to meet his career-high in blocks with seven and he fell one rebound shy of a double-double. All that in just 25 minutes of action.
So who stepped up in the 15 minutes that UK didn’t have its ketchup or mustard? Look no further than Kyle “Big YMCA” Wiltjer. Wiltjer played one of his best games of the season and the Cats didn’t skip a beat when he was at the five in relief of Nerlens. He led the team in scoring with 17 points and dished out a career-high five assists, three of which led to Alex Poythress dunks (maybe one to Goodwin) in a short stretch in the first half. The Big YMCA looked like Magic Johnson in the paint the way he dished the ball to cutting teammates and he held his own against Chubb and the Auburn frontcourt on the other end. After the game, Calipari said he liked Wiltjer’s aggression and how he fought for rebounds and loose balls.
We hoped to see a double-double from Alex Poythress but we’ll settle for the 12 and seven he gave us tonight. Like Calipari said earlier this week, it’s baby steps with Alex Poythress. He’s not going to turn into “a beast” — we love that one, don’t we? — overnight. It’s a slow progression and he showed more progress again tonight against Auburn. It sure would be nice to get a loud yell from him after one of those dunks though, ammiright?
Ryan Harrow set a UK career-high in assists with eight, although he had five bad turnovers to go along with the dimes. It’s amazing how well he’s playing after returning from that dark period of wondering if we’d ever even see him play in Lexington again. He’s scoring, he’s aggressive, and he rebounded tonight (5) against the Tigers. Harrow said the team’s performance was a result of what they built during Camp Cal, it just took them a little longer to put it together.
Jarrod Polson made the most of his opportunity tonight, scoring six points in 10 minutes off the bench. He also had three rebounds and a block. No, really, I’m serious. Scroll down and look at the box score.
“They all did what they were supposed to do” — Calipari on the postgame show
Charles Barkley joined the announcers at halftime for an interview and he was very entertaining, as he always is. Sir Charles was very critical of the NBA’s one-and-done rule and he went as far to say, “There ain’t one player on this Kentucky team that should go pro early.” He blamed family members and agents for being greedy and said too many players leave after one year when they’re not ready. ”Just because it’s a rule, it doesn’t mean you should do it,” he said. I don’t think too many people will argue with him on that one.
As Tyler mentioned in a post just south of this one, Calipari said they’re not ruling Willie Cauley-Stein out for Tuesday night’s game against Alabama. But, hell, if we continue to get the Kyle Wiltjer we saw tonight against Auburn, there isn’t a huge sense of urgency to get Willie back. With that said, come back, Willie. If you’re ready, of course.
Go Cats and have a good night.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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