Photo via USA Today
You watched it, I watched it, it was miserable and heart-wrenching and encouraging all at the same time. Question is, was this “THAT” game?
In case you don’t know what I mean by “THAT” game, Jon Hood, resident “Old Guy” on the team, spoke this season about how each year at UK, Calipari’s teams have had a game where everything just “clicked.” Where the players realized that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and teamwork and hustle is really the way to excel, and become a special team. Hood said that this team hadn’t had that sort of game yet, that the clicking hadn’t happened, and that this was still a group of many parts, rather than a single whole.
But did you see the reaction the team had after Julius sank that put-back and everyone defended the Tigers on the ensuing game-ending possession?
Jubilant. Ecstatic. The team swarmed Julius, and he loved every minute of it. They didn’t care that it was closer than it should have been. They didn’t care that Johnny O’Bryant tore them apart for the second consecutive matchup. They won, and that was all that mattered. Victory itself, not individual accomplishment, became intoxicating. And that’s what teams need to win in spite of poor performances.
Cal called it in his post-game presser: “we’re growing in so many ways.” The ball that got tipped, tipped, tipped, and went to LSU, “could’ve taken the wind out of our sails.” Instead, the team rallied in over time and escaped, escaped with a one-point win that was hard-fought, in question, and earned. In every sense of the word, the Cats earned this win. The three wasn’t going down (1-9), and LSU hit some “Devan Downey” shots in the second half that the Cats really couldn’t have guarded any better.
In spite of all of that, James Young and Andrew Harrison hit absolutely clutch free throws, and Julius Randle had the biggest rebound of his career, despite only scoring eight points.
It was terrible to watch, frustrating in a lot of ways, and I wouldn’t want to do it again. But if you take me two months into the future and show me a Kentucky team that had success in the tournament, I know exactly what game I’d point to as the moment it clicked.
You might have wanted to see a blowout (I know I did), but this may be more beneficial in the long run. They might as well have animated a light bulb over Randle’s head on the TV broadcast. Bottom line: close games are no longer our kryptonite; we can win the heart-stoppers. Better believe we’ll need to before this season is over.