Kentucky needed an easy game after the Louisville loss, and they got it. The Cats absolutely crushed Eastern Michigan in front of a sparse Rupp Arena crowd, 90-38. At times, the infomercials on ESPNU seemed more interesting (Wax Vac, really?!), but once the dunks started flying in the second half, the good times rolled. Here are some notes while I watch my other Wildcats lose to Duke…
— Heading into tonight’s game, everyone wanted to see how Alex Poythress would respond after receiving some private instruction from Cal this week. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist watching from the sidelines, Poythress had a decent game, scoring 16 points and grabbing five rebounds. Alex is still very much a work-in-progress, but he showed more energy, aggression and hustle than we’ve seen from him since the Duke game. After the game, Cal said that Poythress was “halfway home” and had done enough in his two to three private workouts to earn the start. Alex didn’t quite roar, but at least it wasn’t the whimper we saw against Louisville.
— For the second game in a row, Willie Cauley-Stein started and for the second game in a row, he played great. Willie put up a double-double, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Thankfully, he also made a free throw (barely), going 1-2 from the line. He was particularly impressive when the Cats pressed, giving the team a much-needed athletic spark. Willie’s dunk off a Ryan Harrow lob in the second half was so nasty I think it woke up half the blue hairs in the lower arena.
— It seems hard to believe, but Cal started four freshmen for the first time ever tonight. Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress got the starting nod in a lineup Cal calls “the big team” (I call it the “Ketchup and Mustard Show”). Cal said after the game that likes the Twin Towers combination, but it is contingent on Alex Poythress improving. That lineup allows Cal to start the game big and then bring Julius Mays and Kyle Wiltjer in for immediate scoring.
— Ryan Harrow had another good game, putting up 15 points, a season-high eight assists and four steals. Harrow showed off an increasingly impressive stroke from behind the arc, going 4-5 from three-point range. His performance wasn’t as flawless as last week’s against UofL (he had four turnovers vs. zero against the Cards), but Harrow continues to lead the team with confidence, and didn’t revert when Calpari raged at him after a bad play in the first half. Cal noticed too, praising Harrow’s defense: “Wow, how about that today? It wasn’t even the steals. He played, he competed, he battled, and he got punched in the face to today on a play and it didn’t affect him. So I’m more than pleased.” This is the fourth straight game Harrow has scored in double digits, showing just how far he’s come from the timid point guard we saw at the beginning of the season.
— The “Phew” stat of the night: Kentucky was 18-24 (75%) from the line tonight after their abysmal free throw performance against Louisville.
— Eastern Michigan is bad. I mean, really bad. The most impressive thing on their resume heading into the game was a win over Purdue, which means the Boilermakers must be really, really, bad. The Cats easily shut them down in the first half and most of the second before letting up on the pedal a little. But at least they’ve got those cool day-glo shoes, right? (Wrong)
— Whenever I write about Nerlens Noel, I feel like I’m being redundant, but the flat top feller looked solid yet again, posting eight points, thirteen rebounds and three blocks. Nerlens also had two steals, which means he’s still on pace to break Rajon Rondo’s season steals record of 89. That stat will never get old.
— Julius Mays finally shook off a shooting slump, scoring thirteen points off 3-7 from behind the arc and 4-5 from the line. You could literally feel Mays’ frustration in the first half, but he finally broke through, turning in his first double-figure game since December 7th. Welcome back, Julius Treys.
— Speaking of shooting, Kyle Wiltjer got back to business, leading scorers with 17. Kyle was 3-6 from three-point range, a promising sign for the Cats heading into SEC play. He also got his dunk on, something I had to see to believe. They’ll be talking about that at the YMCA tomorrow.
— Archie, Archie, Archie. Can we trade first half Archie for second half Archie? Archie finished with eight points, and may be the next to receive some private instruction from Coach Cal.
— Kentucky finally got over its bad habit of slow second half starts, opening the half with a 15-0 run. It took Eastern Michigan six minutes and twenty-five seconds to score, which either means that our defense was impressive or they’re just really, really bad. Both? (Latter.)
— If you got bored during the game (you did), you could entertain yourself by trying to spot the many celebrities in the stands. Josh Hutcherson (the star, not the Alex Poythress dunk), or Peeta from “The Hunger Games” was in attendance, as was Mark Stoops. But, the best celebrity in the house was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who surprised the team by flying in for the game. Cal joked that he wasn’t happy when he saw the new locker room: “He was really, really angry when he saw the locker room. He was smoking. He walked in my office, and he said, this is BS. What we had last year. Look at this. So he did it in fun, but he was like but it was good to see him.”
— By the way, John Clay, it’s Michael Kidd-GILCHRIST, not Michael Kidd-Gillispie.
Good luck living that one down, John.
— In true Cal fashion, he teased an upcoming feature on CoachCal.com during the postgame presser. Tomorrow, he will unveil the “unique, out of the box” training methods he’s been using with the players on his website. Is this when we finally find out he’s got a magic wand?
— Finally, in case you didn’t notice, the Cats finally covered the John Short spread of 50 bigguns. Free groceries at Kroger tomorrow! (Not really. Please don’t kill me, Kroger.)
You’re all great Americans. Go Cats and good night.