For the second straight week, Lexington was aflutter with excitement for the rare “football/basketball” doubleheader in Lexington. This time however, the games were much more exciting as Dillard/Charleston Southern was replaced by the slightly better duo of ETSU/Vanderbilt. The results however were the same as Kentucky got two big wins and showed sparks of brilliance in both performances. The shooting displayed by the basketball team moved a fanbase that had become slightly dismayed at a future without Enes, into an arena of excitement that may have produced more standing ovations than I can ever remember seeing during one game. We found out Terrence Jones could be a beast and a team that hits threes and can get to the basket, is virtually impossible to defend. On the gridiron, a sad showing by the fanbase (particularly the students) for Senior Day was overcome by a great second half that showcased signature brilliant runs by Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, that could be the lasting memory those two players leave the Big Blue Nation. There was a lot going on in both games and a quick overview of what they mean and where we go from here starts our KSR Week:
— Opening night in Rupp Arena is always filled with excitement and unless the team phones in a Gardner Webb-like dud, most people go away from the game in an upbeat mood. But I did wonder whether the fans would showcase that same energy after the ruling on Thursday from the NCAA on Enes Kanter. But there was no need to worry as the fans produced one of the best “bad game” environments I have seen in Rupp. There was constant support shown and it seemed to me that fans hit a realization during the game that “well maybe we dont have Enes, but we can still be pretty good.” We get on the fans from time to time here (and will later for football), but the Rupp crowd brought it on Friday night.
— Speaking of bringing it, it was a coming out party for Terrence Jones. His 25 points were the second most ever for a UK player in his debut game and his double-double was only the first for a Freshman in his first game since Jules Camara in 1998 (bet you wouldnt have guessed him for that piece of trivia). He showcased why so many compare him to Lamar Odom. He took players off the dribble scored in the paint and hit a couple of outside jumpers. His free throws were off, but his performance did make a mockery of those like Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports, who didnt even have Jones listed as one of the 25 best Freshmen in America.
— We got great performances from the two young guards, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb, both of whom played exactly how they must for UK to do well this year. Knight controlled the tempo, made great passes and showcased his unbelievable three point touch. When Knight shoots as he did on Friday, he is unguardable and I look for him to use that shooting to open up the lanes for his penetration during the Portland and Maui trips over the next two weeks.
— The three point shooting across the board was the story of the game for the Cats and has everyone (myself included) excited. This team may be best suited to run the Dribble Drive of any that Calipari has had, but if they dont hit threes, they wont ever get a chance to run it. Teams will do what ETSU did and play zone until UK shoots them out of it….something that the Cats showed they can do on Friday night. This team has five legitimate three point shooting threats and when the “small” lineup is in, all 5 are on the floor at once. They wont shoot like that every game…but a couple more games showing they can will open things up for the Cats, even on nights where they dont fall at such a rapid rate.
— There were a couple of things to worry about. The interior defense is still poor. The Cats gave away too many layups and Eloy Vargas must showcase more toughness around the rim. I want to see Darius Miller continue to be more aggressive as his passive nature of the last two years seems to still be in effect. But that is nitpicking…Kentucky won against an ETSU team that is better than you think and that had the staff genuinely concerned. Now we get ready for Maui and a trip that if they can complete 3-1, will be cause for celebration.
— The biggest thing I can say about the football game is thank goodness that we won. It is hard to overestimate how important going to a bowl is in modern college football. While some complain about the tedium of continually playing in a Tennessee bowl game and questioning whether the team is moving forward, making a game is the #1 goal each year. It gives you an extra month of practice, is valued by recruits and allows you to prepare for the next season. The Cats won the game even after ANOTHER bad first half and executed in the third quarter as well as they have all season. It was a “just win baby” game…and thankfully they did.
— After the game, all talk on the postgame show was about the defense once again starting so poorly. With a team that before this game had only been getting 89 yards a game rushing, Vanderbilt had over 140 in the first half and had the anti-Steve Brown group licking their chops once again. But then in the second half, things improved again. The front four FINALLY got into the Vandy backfield, the Linebackers made plays and Winston Guy didnt get beat…all things to praise. I am done trying to figure out why those assets arent shown in the first half…it is what it is…but man if they could just play half as well early as they do late, this team could be VERY good.
— Finally, appreciate just how amazing Randall Cobb truly is. While his Touchdown run was really impressive, his scramble that led him from his own endzone to the Vanderbilt 35 may have been one of the 2-3 best things he has done in a UK uniform. He isnt that big, isnt all that fast and doesnt blow you away while he has the ball. But he has an amazing ability to not get tackled and to find the one running lane that exists that others cannot see. He may be my favorite football player to watch, outside of one Hefty Lefty, that has ever played at this school. The news after the game that his father had made two buses available to bring people from Alcoa to watch the game makes me think that it could have been his last at Commonwealth. If that is so, no one can begrudge him at all. He has put his body on the line for UK as much as anyone we have ever seen and he will go down as one of the greats to ever play for the Big Blue.
We got a big week here. We will announce the Halloween contest winner today, get you ready for Maui, send Drew off to Portland and much more. Mark Krebs is in studio for radio on Monday and Mike Pratt all day on Tuesday. The latest KSR Podcast (Episode 4) is finally out and we are two weeks away from the launch of the tv show. Lots going on and I thank all you folks for being around for it….