(Photo © Kim Klement) For about five minutes, it looked possible. Kentucky came to life →
Basketball Season Coverage
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©11:15 am
The loss to Florida doesn’t seem to have affected Kentucky’s projected seed too much. Both ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm updated their projections, and have Kentucky as a 7-seed and a 6-seed, respectively, both in the Midwest Region.
Playing Kyle Wiltjer’s new squad then possibly Ryan Harrow? Talk about the ghosts of Kentucky past.
#14. (LW: 14) Mississippi State (13-18, 3-15, RPI: 246)
This Week: Lost at Georgia by 21, Lost to South Carolina by 12
-Somebody shoot this season in the head already and put the Bulldogs out of their misery. 14 straight losses.
#13. (LW: 13) South Carolina (12-19, 5-13, RPI: 154)
This Week: Lost to Florida by 26, Won at Mississippi State by 12
-Win in Starkville keeps them out of the cellar for the year. Frank Martin debacle the only highlight.
#12. (LW:12) Auburn (14-15, 6-12, RPI: 159)
This Week: Lost at Tennesse by 28, Beat Texas A&M by 5
-Tempted to move them up but just can’t. Maybe an upset-minded team in Atlanta though.
#11. (LW: 9) Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11, RPI: 110)
This Week: Lost to LSU by 6, Lost at Ole Miss by 3
-After an impressive stretch in the middle of the year, a complete collapse at the end. Stallings has work to do.
#10. (LW: 9) Texas A&M (17-14, 8-10, RPI: 151)
This Week: Lost at Missouri by 1, Lost to Auburn by 5
-At this point, all the teams suck pretty evenly. But they went 0-2 this week, so they drop.
#9. (LW: 11) Alabama (13-18, 7-11, RPI: 116)
This Week: Lost at Kentucky by 7, Beat Arkansas by 25
-Only move up because the teams ahead of them sucked so hard this week. Still a down year.
#8. (LW: 7) Ole Miss (18-13, 9-9, RPI: 90)
This Week: Lost at Arkansas by 30, Beat Vanderbilt by 3
-Have fun in the NIT Marshall Henderson. We won’t miss you.
#7. (LW: 8) LSU (18-12, 9-9, RPI: 73)
This Week: Won at Vanderbilt by 6, Lost to Georgia by 8
-Much like Arkansas, a complete waste of good enough talent to make the big dance.
#6. (LW: 6) Missouri (19-10, 9-9, RPI: 56)
This Week: Beat Texas A&M by 1, Lost at Tennessee by 27
-Played in Knoxville like their NCAA Tournament lives were not on the line. What we call Haith-ing.
#5. (LW: 4) Arkansas (20-10, 10-8, RPI: 53)
This Week: Beat Ole Miss by 30, Lost at Alabama by 25
-Mike Anderson should have been able to get this team to the NCAA Tournament, not gonna happen
#4. (LW: 3) Georgia (18-12, 12-6, RPI: 70)
This Week: Beat Mississippi State by 21, Won at LSU by 8
-I know Donovan will get COY but Mark Fox did more with less and deserves part of that award
#3. (LW: 2) Kentucky (22-9, 12-6, RPI: 19)
This Week: Beat Alabama by 7, Lost at Florida by 19
-Were #2 every week this season but have to face facts, this team is no longer playing like the 2nd best team in the league
#2. (LW: 5) Tennessee (20-11, 11-7, RPI: 46)
This Week: Won at Auburn by 28, Beat Missouri by 27
-If Florida doesn’t win SEC Tournament, the Vols will. Playing fantastic defense last 2 weeks.
#1. (LW: 1) Florida (29-2, 18-0, RPI: 2)
This Week: Won at South Carolina by 26, Beat Kentucky by 19
-Looking to become winningiest single SEC team with 2 wins in Atlanta
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.
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.
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
Now that’s better! Yesterday, Kentucky freshman standout, Julius Randle, was named a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award presented by Wendy’s. The Wooden Award National Advisory Board selected Randle and fourteen other elite players around the nation.
The Wooden Award All-American Team, consisting of the nation’s top-10 players, will be selected during the week of the Elite Eight and will be voted on by nearly 1,000 media members and fans around the country. You can cast your vote for Player of the Year at WoodenAwardVote.com. The winner of the award will be announced on ESPN during the Final Four weekend in Dallas, Texas.
After yesterday’s blowout loss in Gainesville, Kentucky’s odds to win the SEC Tournament understandably took a tumble. But just how much of a hit did the Cats sustain yesterday? Well, by using one of the internet’s most reliable rating systems and Bill James’ Log5 method for game prediction, we can see Kentucky’s exact odds to win the annual conference clash. I calculated the odds using Ken Pomeroy’s data and figured out round-by-round win probabilities for every team in the SEC.
As you can obviously see, Florida is the overwhelming favorite to take home the conference tournament crown with nearly a 50% chance to win. The data gives Tennessee, the tournament’s 4 seed, the second best chance to win the tournament with a 20% probability. Kentucky, though fairly far back in the ratings compared to Tennessee, has a nearly the same chance to win the SEC Tournament as do the Vols. Our 17% chance to win the title is largely due to the weakness of teams on our side of the bracket. Of course, our recent struggles guarantee absolutely nothing. Other than Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky, no other team has a very realistic shot at winning the annual conference tournament. Of course, anything could happen as Ole Miss only had a 4% chance to win in 2013.
It is hard to pinpoint a collective emotion of the Big Blue Nation right now. When a sport fan’s team is struggling, they commonly claim to be numb to the pain–they feel apathetic. Maybe that is true for some, in fact, it is probably true to some extent for most. Unfortunately for the health of the average Kentucky basketball fan, the words, “I don’t even care anymore”, are more of a coping mechanism than a truism.
If we’re to be honest, Kentucky basketball fans aren’t capable of not feeling some type of strong emotion in regards to their team. This year, “I don’t even care anymore”, reads to me, “Wow, this is so shocking and I truly have no idea how to feel.” After each loss, Kentucky fans seem to be punching in the dark, trying to decide exactly how to handle this surprisingly disappointing season. They don’t know how to feel. Here are the most common emotions I’ve encountered while drudging through the muck of various UK messaging board communities and during conversations with fans. There is probably some logic in nearly all of the garbled emotions felt by Kentucky fans. I don’t intend to disparage how anyone feels–that’s the point I guess–confusion without uniformity is the common-thread.
1. The person who claims to be apathetic. I have been this person. Really (I say to myself)? You care so little, that in the middle of a beautiful Saturday, you are alone at your computer, pouting and scouring the internet. If you didn’t care, A. you wouldn’t be on an internet message board attempting to cope with the loss and B. you definitely wouldn’t take minutes of your valuable time to actually post how little you care before divulging all of the things that have upset you about this team. The guy who truly doesn’t care is the one you won’t hear from. He is also the one not reading this post. You are not him or her.
Accept it: You, like the rest of us, care very much.
2. The person who is still holding out hope. This person is still lucky enough to be living in a much happier time. He still believes that the Cats will turn the corner. Anyone who doesn’t think this is a bad fan. He has many good qualities and it is sometimes very tempting to agree with him. However, it is usually more tempting to believe this person is delirious, depending on the extent of his ramblings. He is usually found putting the loss in “perspective” for everyone, usually by pointing to similar losses by other teams (usually Kansas) and by drawing awkward comparisons between this Kentucky team and successful teams from the past. No one is exactly sure what this person’s expectations are. Does he still think we can win a national championship? Or is his hope more attainable–say, he believes that Kentucky will make it to the second weekend of the tournament.
3. The person who thinks this is the worst team he has ever watched play and he can’t wait for all of the players to leave. He is the only person of this bunch that I truly can’t relate to at all. You know this guy. He blathers on and on about how we will be much better next year when James Young, Julius Randle, and hopefully (in his delusional mind), the Harrison twins leave. He claims that the twins are cancers to team chemistry and that James Young has no basketball skills. In his mind, the team would be better off without them all.
The Harrison twins catch the brunt of this guy’s anger. I understand that times have changed and that the freshmen excuse is old to most–but sorry, it is fact. THEY ARE FRESHMEN. And for freshmen, each of them have had good years. The Harrison twins would go a long way to making next year’s team very good. I for one, really, really hope and think that they will stay.
4. The level-headed guy. This is where most Kentucky fans fall, despite what rivals may say and despite this person’s relative rarity in the online community following a loss. They discuss this teams woes in a matter-of-fact and intelligent way. They are rightfully disappointed and surprised by this season. They are frustrated by the past two teams but believe the necessary program adjustments will be made in the future and that Calipari has learned from the experience. They also understand the difficulties faced by this young team. Their expectations have evolved with the season. They are hopeful that the Cats can make a positive showing in the SEC tournament followed with a respectable performance in the NCAA tournament.
The level-headed guy has some concerns for the program but still wholeheartedly believes that John Calipari is far and away the best coach for the University of Kentucky and would be very hard to replace. They remember the outstanding 22-year-career John Calipari has had and his unbelievable run thus far at Kentucky. These more expansive factors, not this season, are better indicators of what is to come at Kentucky.
The spectrum of emotions and beliefs obviously don’t end with this list. It seems that no two people feel the same way. The wild expectations that didn’t seem so far-fetched at the beginning of this year have led to an unprecedented situation for Kentucky fans.
With 17:30 left in the game Florida had just scored to retake a 21 point lead. From that point the Cats exploded on a 15-0 run to cut the lead to six point with 12:25 to go. The Cats showed a flash of the team we all expected them to be and perhaps offered one final hope for some post-season success. Here’s what I saw the Cats get right during that explosive 5 minutes:
For a bit Kentucky looked like the poised team ready to roll while Florida started to play tight. One thing that was present out of the second half gates was improved defensive intensity. The Cats were all over Florida as they blocked shots and forced the Gators into bad plays. Twice down the floor UF walked as they fell into a UK trap. Another possession James Young came up with a steal that lead to a transition bucket. For a team that has struggled all season long on the defensive end it was a nice sequence that displayed just how effective the team can be when the defense is working.
Finishing In Transition
Not only were the Cats finding success on the defensive end during that five minute span but they also were clicking offensively for the first time in what seems like weeks. During that stretch they scored on 7 of their 8 possessions and grabbed three offensive rebounds. The team has struggled to move the ball in transition all season long while also having issues finishing at the rim. Today they showcased an ability to move the ball to the rim for an easy score and almost made it look easy. For five minutes they looked like the team we all expected them to be before Donovan could adjust and the Cats ran out of steam.
Earlier this week Calipari talked about his teams finally clicking at all different times during the season. During that five minute stretch when the Cats had nothing else to lose thy finally looked like the light had come on. Now we are on to the SEC tournament and the rest of the postseason. If UK can somehow stretch that five minutes into 40 then maybe they can find the magic to make a run. As Dakari said after the game they still believe they can do it so we need to as well. That five minute run was the one glimmer of hope the Cats have left to salvage a season.
It’s been a full slate of SEC action on this fine Saturday and the dust is finally about to settle on what has been a jumbled picture for the SEC tournament. Here are your current SEC standings:
1. Florida 18-0
2. Kentucky 12-6
3. Georgia 12-6
4. Tennessee 11-7
5. Arkansas 10-8
6. LSU 9-9
7. Ole Miss 9-9
8. Missouri 9-9
9. Texas A&M 8-10
10. Alabama 7-11
11. Vanderbilt 7-11
12. Auburn 6-12
13. South Carolina 5-13
14. Mississippi State 3-15
Despite the late slide UK has the 2 seed locked up which means their next game will be Friday night but let’s see a show of hands of who picked us to finish with the same SEC record as Georgia? Anywho, the Cats are on to the postseason and will play the winner of 10 seed Alabama and 7 seed LSU. Both are teams the Cats managed to take care of late in the year but LSU is not a team you’d want to play for a third time. Johnny O’Bryant is licking his chops for one more chance at the Cats.
What do you think of how the SEC wrapped up and our road for the SEC tournament?
We may be all down on the Cats right now following the disappointing loss but there is still one person heaping some praise on Kentucky. That person is Florida coach Billy Donovan. Following the game Donovan had this to say, “I think Kentucky’s as talented as anybody in the country. They’ve got all the pieces …but there’s always a process.” while going on to say they could “beat anybody in the country on a given night”.
Donovan then went on to speak about UK’s struggles following the preseason hype, “When a group of really talented players come into college, sometimes the expectations placed on them are unfair.”. With hindsight being 20/20 we now know all the expectations were blown out of proportion but so is everything in the internet era.
What do you think of Donovan’s comments on the Cats?
(Photo © Kim Klement)
For about five minutes, it looked possible. Kentucky came to life at the 17 minute mark in the second half, going on a 15-0 run to cut it to as close as 6 with 12 minutes left. From there, they tried to keep it respectable, but Florida was just too good, powering past the Cats to win by 19, the second-largest margin of defeat of the Calipari era.
Five minutes of life
I won’t even bother going over the first half. It sucked. Kentucky played the same lifeless, timid basketball they have the past three games, and during halftime, I think a good chunk of fans didn’t think they’d get off the mat. However, they did, cutting a 21-point deficit to six with 12:25 remaining.
What was the key to the run? While I choose to believe it was GIFs of cats wearing socks and bacon, Calipari said it started with Alex Poythress’ defense. “If Alex wasn’t in the game, we could have lost by 50.” In those five minutes, Kentucky held #1 Florida scoreless, and dare I say it, it looked like the light had gone on. However, after a timeout, Scotty Wilbekin nailed a three and even though the Cats hung in there for about ten more minutes, Florida responded to every challenge. That’s what good teams do.
Florida really is just that good
Coming into to this game, I was a little skeptical that Florida was capable of winning the national championship. After seeing them dismantle Kentucky today, I am completely convinced. On Senior Day, with the SEC rival in the house, Florida did what an excellent team does: rise to the occasion. Seniors Patric Young, Casey Prather, and Scottie Wilbikin combined for 46 points, and although it sounds a bit sad, I think this Kentucky team should have a small bit of pride in holding them scoreless for five minutes. Unfortunately, the first half was “embarrassing” (Cal’s words and mine), and ultimately, Kentucky dug themselves a hole too big to get out of.
Dakari will start from now on
The only leader this team has right now is Dakari Johnson, and he didn’t even start the game. That will change. After the game, Cal said that from now on, Dakari will start because “he’s the one kid who has fun and plays that way.” Dakari had nine points and five rebounds in 20 minutes this afternoon, and helped spark that big run with both points and emotion. At this rate, I’d take a team full of Dakari’s, even if the guard play and foul shooting would suck.
After hurting his knee, Julius went to work
Towards the end of the first half, a scoreless Julius Randle went down with what appeared to be a knee injury, but after being tended to on the sideline, went back in and actually went to work. Julius finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, his 18th double-double of the season, and played with purpose, kicking it out when he needed to, and cleaning up around the rim. I’m not sure what happened when Julius jammed that knee, but it worked. For Kentucky to have any kind of shot at anything, they need more of that.
Is that run enough to save a season?
A question many of us are asking after today’s game is whether or not Kentucky’s five minutes of life was enough to save the season. Was the fight that they showed enough to keep you believing? I think most of us leave the game feeling about the same as before: doubtful, but desperately optimistic. However, the players say they still believe:
“We’ve got to get this thing. We don’t know what we’ve got to do but we’ve got to get going,” Julius told reporters after the game, “As guys in the locker room we all still believe, but there’s a point where, you know, we have to put it into action and I still think we will.”
“I know a lot of people don’t believe that we can do it right now, but it’s on us right now,” Dakari added. “We just have to believe. If we believe that’s all that matters.”
Calipari was proud of his team for fighting back, but seemed discouraged that it was all for moot. Cal said the Cats killed themselves in the first half, and even though they played great for “five, ten” minutes in the second half, they made some really poor decisions down the stretch: “You’ve got your chance and we come down and then all of a sudden, take two of the worst shots we’ve taken all year. But that’s what freshmen do,” Cal lamented. ”It’s time to win now. With eight minutes left, you just don’t take those kind of shots.”
For this team, Cal admits the SEC Tournament is important
It’s no secret Cal is not a fan of conference tournaments. In years past, his teams have been good enough that they’ve only mattered for seeding. However, after the game, Cal admitted that this season, it’s important for many reasons, the biggest being confidence:
“For this team it’s important (because) we got to get the mojo going a little bit and we got to do it there. Historically my teams have done well in tournaments but we just have to see.”
To be continued…
After re-inserting Willie Cauley-Stein into the starting line-up for the last few games, John Calipari thinks it’s time to go back to Dakari Johnson. In his post-game interview with Tom Leach, Calipari applauded Johnson for his play and effort, also mentioning Alex Poythress as a key member of the second half comeback effort.
“Dakari needs to be starting, and that’s what we’ll do,” Calipari said. “He’s the one kid who has fun with it.”
John Calipari was brutally honest when talking about what might have cost the Cats any chance at a comeback against the #1 ranked Florida Gators. Calipari said it wasn’t the first half shelling by Florida that doomed his team. Instead, it was a flurry of two bad possessions with two really bad shots that stifled Kentucky’s comeback hopes.
“We did fight and gave ourselves a chance to win on the road. I thought we fought and did good stuff, but when it came down to a 6-8 point game, we took two God awful shots. Not just bad shots, but throws. They were throws. Those 2 shots were taken with 30 seconds on the clock. Throws. Absolute, no chance… nothing! You can’t win playing that way.
Calipari said he told his team during the timeout when they cut the lead to 6 that they needed to be patient and take good shots. Calipari said he told them if they had to wait until a few seconds left in the shot clock, that was okay. “But, that being said…we get ourselves in a position to win. Because that first half was embarrassing.”