Like Marshall Henderson’s lady at last call, it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. The Cats escaped with a 75-70 win over LSU, thanks in large part to Alex Poythress and John Robic. Let’s break it down.
– Welcome back, Alex Poythress. Alex roared back to life tonight, recording his first career double-double with 20 points (6-9 FG, 8-10 FT), 12 rebounds, and only three fouls in 30 minutes of play. Even more, he showed confidence, aggression and resilience, standing tall when things got tough. Alex has had a rough season so far, drawing the wrath of Cal more so than any other player on the team, but you couldn’t tell from his demeanor today. Alex fought for rebounds, attacked the lane, and looked every inch the NBA player the pros think he will be one day. After sinking two free throws to clinch the win, I think he also exorcised some demons.
The road hasn’t been easy for Alex. He’s spent more time in Cal’s dog house than the “mean and nimble one” for his lack of effort and lackluster performances. After the game, Alex was the first to admit he wasn’t ready for the level of play Cal expects from his players: “Playing hard according to me and playing hard according to Coach Cal is a whole different level.” Nerlens Noel called Poythress’ performance “phenomenal,” and said that he’s been much more vocal and aggressive during practice the past few days.
This is the Alex we all expected. This was the guy who ripped his graduation gown open to reveal his UK shirt. This is the guy that could save Kentucky’s season. After the game, LSU coach Johnny Jones said that Poythress took advantage of his size against LSU’s smaller defenders: “I thought he was a difference-maker in the game.” Cal agreed, telling reporters after the game, “Without (Poythress), we don’t win.” Two weeks ago, could you imagine anyone saying that? Cal praised Alex like a proud papa, calling his performance a sign that “he’s getting it.” Today, Alex could leave the court knowing he gave it his all, a feeling that Cal said even drew a smile from the shy freshman: “That’s the first time he smiled all year. As he walked off the court, he smiled.”
That would make me want to hug him too, Cal:
Alex said that if he had to rate how much fun he had in the game on a scale of 1 to 10, he’d give it an 11. Keep it up, young man.
– Before we go any further, everyone stop and give the other guy in the picture a standing ovation. John Robic saved Kentucky from another humiliating loss at home by pulling Nerlens Noel out of bounds when there were too many players on the court. Johnny Jones noticed it too, and protested to the refs, who reviewed the play and by the hairs on his flatty flat flat top, Nerlens was pulled off the court just as Archie was handed the ball. Had he been on there a second longer, it would be a technical foul and I would be writing a very different kind of recap. Cal said that Nerlens being on the court was a “snafu” by his staff and Nerlens joked that Robic saved him from a move that “almost ended my career right there.” Here’s to you, John Robic. I’ll be getting some blonde highlights in your honor very soon.
– After the game, Gerald Boudreaux, SEC Coordinator of Men’s Basketball Officials, released this statement about the incident at the end of the game:
“Rule 7, Section 6, Article 1 of the NCAA rule book states that “the throw-in team shall have team control when the ball is at the disposal of a player entitles to the throw-in.” The officiating crew ruled that when the ball was handed to the player for the throw-in, five players were on the court for each team.
The officials left the arena without making a statement about the play in question. I will personally address this situation and will make sure that this will not happen again.”
– Well, now it’s time for the bad news. For the umpteenth time in a row, the Cats almost gave the game away. After an excellent first half, they went back in their shells in the second, reverting to bad habits and eschewing any kind of offensive flow. In the first half, the Cats shot 57.6% off 19-33 from the floor; in the second half, they were 8-19 for 42.1%. I’m not sure what happens in the locker room during half time, but it must be nice, because the Cats don’t seem to want to leave. Slow second half starts are a trend that is quickly, and unfortunately, become this team’s trademark. Right, Cal? “Just like every other game, we’re giving them a chance to beat us.”
Was Kentucky’s rout of Auburn a fluke? Before then, Cal said that he couldn’t imagine this team “whomping” on anyone. Now, Cal says “they’re playing like they’re afraid to lose.” For the Cats to pull off an upset at Ole Miss, they’ll have to show more spine than that.
– Cal went on a bit of a rant about some of his players’ excuses for not playing hard:
“And we talk about it; we address it; and we show them: ‘I got it, I got it.’ And next missed next layup, what, head down, jaw back, gave up a three.
‘That was your man.’
‘I know, but I was picking up the ball and I was trying to go and the bike went and the apple hit me in the head.’ What?!”
– We say it every time, but Nerlens Noel played great. He is the rock that anchors this team from drifting off the bubble. Nerlens had ten points, eight rebounds and six blocks and while we all know he’s one of the best defenders in the country, he showed off an improved touch on offense as well. If there’s been one criticism of Nerlens’ game so far, it’s been that he’s too raw offensively. Tonight, he tossed those critiques through the basket with a beautiful and deathly hook shot.
– Kyle Wiltjer had a quiet night, scoring only eight points after putting up double figures in three straight games. While the “gobbles” weren’t falling, Kyle did come through in the stretch with two crucial free throws with 3.1 left in the game.
– One of the most frustrating things about this team is just how good they can look at times. In the first half, the Cats showed what happens when everyone “buys in.” The offense flowed like Caney Creek, with players working together to create plays. Archie Goodwin got what may have been the loudest ovation for an assist ever when he passed the ball to Ryan Harrow for a layup. Archie was slightly more “Ahh” than “Argh” tonight, but he still has a long way to go to be the player this team needs him to be. Proof? Archie Goodwin was on the bench during the most important offensive series of the game.
It was ugly, but as Cal said, “it’s nice to walk out of here with a win.” On that note, throw your hands up like Randall Cobb and go celebrate.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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