Photo by Andy Lyons (Getty)
For two years, the stars have aligned in the Bluegrass on Tuesday nights as they eyes of Kentucky have been treated with the double-header of Kentucky basketball and the greatness that is Justified. So, it only seems fitting that on the night that FX premiered the first episode of Justified‘s third season, the Kentucky basketball team seemed to shake out of a funk that has been lingering in SEC play. UK played one of their more complete games of the season in a blowout of Mike Anderson’s Arkansas team and served as a delicous appetizer for the return of the greatest television program ever set in Harlan. Yes, it was a good night. It was a very, very good night.
A few notes…
– Without question, the biggest story of the night was freshman Anthony Davis, who not only stepped into the record books rather easily, passing Melvin Turpin and Andre Riddick for the single-season block record with five extra blocks to spare, but also punished the Razorbacks with the quiet dominance only Raylan Givens could appreciate. Davis finished with a career-high 27 points (on 10-12 shooting), to go with fourteen boards and seven blocks, and showcased a little of the offensive versatility that he’s seemed to keep in his back pocket so far this season. Early in the game, Davis beat his man off the dribble and knocked down a jumper and got to the rack off the dribble several times in the second half, which surely had NBA scouts drooling even more. Because of the way this team is constructed, Davis hasn’t been needed to do much more on the offensive end besides just fly to the rim and catch lobs, but he’s shown the past few games the glimpses of the all-around game that made so many people fall in love with him as a high school prospect. It was a performance so dominating, he flirted with what was almost the school’s second-ever triple-double and most certainly earned him 24 hours as Jeff Goodman’s Twitter avatar. After the game, according to Brett Dawson, Davis talked about the near triple-double and said that his dad always shares his frustrations on his inability to finish it off. Of his dad, Davis said, “He always says, ‘You’re three blocks away, two blocks away. What happened?'” So what happened tonight? The Beisner Jinx. Sorry, Anthony.
– Worth noting: Anthony Davis is now the SEC’s scoring leader for conference games only with 17.8 points per game.
– Just as the season premiere of Justified opened with concerns about whether Raylan Givens was healthy enough to be the force he was last season, the Kentucky game began with similar concerns about Terrence Jones and his ability to find that extra gear again and give the Cats another powerful presence. Jones responded in a big way, finally heeding his coach’s advice to just attack the rim and dunk on people, most prominently showcasing his disregard for Razorback life by going up for a dunk in the final seconds before the half. Jones finished with only 13 points, but he flexed his muscles inside to the tune of 9 rebounds and 5 big blocks. He’ll have a chance to really make a statement against Alabama’s front line Saturday, but it’s hard to not be extremely happy with the way Jones played on a night when his team was cruising at a pace where maximum effort wasn’t exactly a necessity. For all the time we’ve said in the last few weeks that he’s seemed uninterested or not all there mentally, it was a fantastic effort from the sophomore forward.
– If there was ever a game that Marquis Teague had reason to struggle, it may have been tonight against Arkansas and their “40 Minutes of Confused Running Around”. But Teague stepped up to the challenge and dished out nine assists. More importantly, the freshman point guard resisted the urge to force jump shots, shooting only four times and making all of them count. Teague thrived again against the man-to-man defense and got to the basket and finished late in the shot clock in a manner that drummed up memories of John Wall. Dammit. I did it. I said “John Wall”. Sorry, that’s not fair. It won’t happen again. But Teague stepped up Tuesday night and looks like a guy who might finally be finding his groove. (Go knock on wood.)
– Kentucky entered the game in the weird position of being the nation’s fifth-best rebounding team, but having struggled in SEC play. The Cats were out-rebounded in their first two conference games and were -5 overall in SEC play, but absolutely dominated a much smaller Arkansas team on the glass. What’s more impressive is that they didn’t dial back their aggressiveness in chasing down blocked shots, finishing with 17 as a team, and still managed to keep the Razorbacks from grabbing offensive rebounds. Arkansas finished with only five. Again, they’ll have a challenge ahead of them with Alabama this weekend, but winning the battle of the boards in such a dominating fashion was a nice return to the goodness of the early season.
– Against Tennessee, the Cats struggled to score in the first half because they were not moving on offense much and because there was too much dribbling. Against Arkansas, in part because of the press, the Cats were zipping passes all over the place and setting each other up to score the ball. The ball movement in the first half was as good as it’s been at any point this season and as good as we’ve seen with any Kentucky team since Calipari has been the coach. It’s tougher to do that sort of thing against the zone, so maybe that was part of it, but every player on the team showed themselves to be unselfish and it paid off in the form of 86 points. They started it with defense a lot of times, but they always finished it with crisp passes and strong finishes. There’s not a team in the country that can out-score them when that is happening.
– And speaking of zone offense, this wasn’t supposed to be the game where UK found some cohesion in their zone offense, but that’s what ended up happening. After UK continally torched the Arkansas press, the Razorbacks dropped back into a 2-3 zone and the Cats did the things they have failed to do far too often. Marquis Teague penetrated tothe middle – yes, the middle. Anthony Davis was finally used in the high post to distribute over the top to cutters and open shooters. So as soon as the Hogs went to the zone, UK torched them until they had to back off.
– When UK was up by 25 points with only 4:30 remaining in the game, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist dove out of bounds for a loose ball. That alone says everything we could possibly write about him. I love that kid.
– Who is sexier? Wynona, Ava Crowder or Kyle Wiltjer banking a jumper home?
– In closing, Justified was awesome. I’d love to write more, but it’s late and I need to watch it three or four more times. Maybe next week.
– Finally, Anthony Davis wasn’t the only person with a historical performance Tuesday night. Our good buddy Stone Cold Willow found his way onto ESPN and taught the nation the importance of Smoothing Out Your Back…