A couple of quick takeaways before I try to eat a quick dinner and then write the night post…
– If there was any player on the team that came ready to play, it was freshman Terrence Jones, who absolutely exploded on the Sooners from start to finish. His 29 points tied Eric Bledsoe for the second-most by a freshman at UK and his aggressiveness on the glass (13 boards) continued to provide optimism to a fanbase concerned that there might not be the proper personnel on this team to successfully rebound the ball. I’ll get more into the impact of his performance in the night post but one thing that I think is underrated to this point about Jones’ game is his enthusiasm on both ends of the floor. Though he looked a little lost on offense for a few possessions while Oklahoma made a run in the second half, Jones spent the entire game playing as hard as anyone on the court and, at times, you could see his teammates feed off of that. It’s easy for a guy as talented as him to come in and rely on his talent and play more of a finesse game. It says a lot about him as a player and a person to see him play with fire and to battle in the paint. When his shot isn’t falling, like in the Portland game, that extra effort means he’ll still get his points. When it is falling, he’s going to have a superstar-like performance like tonight. Nothing but positives to take away from Jones’ game.
– On the flip side, Kentucky’s other superstar freshman didn’t have his greatest game. Brandon Knight shot only 4-15 from the field, including 2-8 from downtown, in his 13 point outing. However, it was Knight’s five turnovers that were more troubling than his jumper, which seemed to be drawing the front of the rim far too often. The five turnovers matched his total for the entire season to this point and served cause for exactly zero concern. Most came with UK ahead and with the game getting sloppy. Knight’s smart enough and talented enough to fix it. But, that being said, when the game is getting a little out of control, it’s his job to corral it back in. That’s part of the maturation process at point guard and I’m sure it’s something that he’ll improve on as he gets more experience in that spot.
– As inspiring as Terrence Jones’ performance was, Darius Miller’s was just as frustrating. He again looked lost and did what he has done far too often in his career, disappearing for the majority of the game. One commenter even suggested that he be called “Disappearius Miller”. He struggled with fouls and just seemed like things weren’t clicking for him. That’s not what you want out of a guy you’re counting on to provide veteran leadership. Calipari was visibly irritated with Miller after he got called for a technical and a goaltend on the attempted double dunk and Miller appeared to be frustrated himself throughout the game. But, the good news is that tomorrow is another game and, if we’ve learned anything about Darius at this point, it’s that he can just as easily put together a complete performance in game 2.
– Had it not been for Terrence Jones filling up the stat sheet, the star of the game might have been DeAndre Liggins. He provided his usual defensive mean streak (one caller likened him to Ron Artest) and gave the Cats 12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and only one turnover. Unlike Miller, Liggins has become a player that Kentucky can count on for a consistent performance and, to this point, you could easily make a case that he’s the most important veteran on the team. What do you think about that, Coach Clyde?
– Speaking of Liggins, DeAndre said his shoulder is sore but he expects to play. An Oklahoma player fell on him during a rebound. The floor is listed as day-to-day.
– In what seems to be a recurring theme, there appeared to be almost no inside presence for the Cats outside of Terrence Jones. The Josh Harrellson/Eloy Vargas tandem combined for four points and seven rebounds against an Oklahoma team that wasn’t exactly imposing up front. At this point, you know what you get in Harrellson. Most people are hoping that Vargas will eventually develop into a more reliable option inside, but, as of now, he really isn’t giving UK much on either end of the floor. He has the size to make an impact. He just doesn’t seem to have the right mindset. Maybe that will come with more repetition.
– Yet again, Kentucky seemed to be comfortable in knocking down the three-point shot, connecting on 6 of 12 in the first half. The Cats would knock down only 1 of 8 in the final 20 minutes of the game, showcasing a key component of what could dictate this team’s success this year. Though most would agree that there are better shooters on this year’s team than last year’s, Kentucky cannot afford to become a three-point shooting team. One thing overlooked from last season was that through about the midpoint of the year, John Wall and Co. had the highest three-point percentage in UK history. And it was only because they took good shots. For Kentucky to succeed again this year, the three has to be a luxury. They cannot start getting comfortable firing them up without running the offense and trying to get to the hole. Against Oklahoma, they appeared to be ok with a few ill-advised heaves from downtown. Get it out of your system now.
More in the night post in a bit…