Kentucky’s played 28 games this season, and that was certainly one of them. Kentucky put away an ailing Mississippi State team 85-55 with Andrew Wiggins in the stands, cruising into a two-way tie for second place in the SEC. Believe it or not, we’re going to break it down even more:
— For the third game in a row, Ryan Harrow showed up ready to play. Harrow led the Cats with 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. Harrow hustled for balls and drove the lane with confidence. In the past three games, Harrow’s been 18-32 from the field, with 14 assists and 20 rebounds. With Nerlens Noel out, rebounding has been essential for this team, and along with Julius, Harrow is keeping the Cats in the game on the boards. What’s changed since the Florida and Tennessee games, in which he went scoreless? Kentucky’s new “open offense,” which allows for better ball movement and spacing, freeing Ryan up for threes on the perimeter. Better yet, he is active on the floor, a far cry from the “Cool Ryan” we’ve come to dread. Cal said the Ryan’s performance is a crucial part to this team finally “getting it”: “Now Ryan’s doing his job, it makes it easier on everybody else on the team.”
— From the start, it was clear that Alex Poythress was going to have a big game. Poythress had 16 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one block and only one turnover tonight. Thirteen of those points came in the first half, during which both Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein dominated the paint. Afterwards, Coach Cal said it should have been a “25 and 12 day” for Alex, but that he’s made “unbelievable strides,” especially in terms of his body language on the court. Ryan Harrow agreed: “When you see him smile, it just brightens up everyone’s day.”
— It was truly a balanced attack from the Cats, with all five starters scoring in double figures. Kentucky shot 54.8% from the field, the third game in a row they’ve topped the 50% mark, and owned the paint, 46-18. That is not a typo.
— Your Boone’s Butcher Shop Injury Update: Julius Mays received four stitches over his left eye after colliding with Alex Poythress’ elbow in the second half. Mays didn’t return from the game, presumably because the trainers wouldn’t let him just slap some duct tape on it and go back out.
— It was hard to evaluate how well Kentucky played because Mississippi State was just that bad. From the get go, it was obvious this was going to be a “Bless your little heart” game, with Mississippi State only dressing eight players, two of which went down with injuries during the game. It was hard not to feel sorry for Rick Ray and his squad, who looked flat out dejected on the bench. In fact, Ray’s a little tired of hearing about how bad Kentucky’s had it since losing Nerlens Noel: “When you want to start comparing trials and tribulations, we win all day long. Even the situation they are in, (John Calipari) still has like five-star guys and McDonald’s All-American’s that is playing for him, so excuse me if I don’t start crying for what is going on at Kentucky compared to what is going on here.”
— A great moment you may have missed watching on TV was the 1996 Championship team being honored at halftime and receiving rings from the school. After the game, Cal shared that it all started when Tony Delk told him the team didn’t have rings (the school told them at the time the NCAA wouldn’t allow them to spend the money on them), and DeWayne Peevy suggested they get them some. Cal agreed and they let the team design their own. The result? “Their rings are nicer than ours,” Cal gushed. The best part? Anthony Epps got down and kissed the UK logo at midcourt.
— For the second game in a row, Archie Goodwin had a good second half, scoring 9 of his 11 points and feeding the team with his energy. True to form, he had a few “OMG dumb” moments, but they’re not fatal as long he keeps the team’s energy up. Willie Cauley-Stein had another good game, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks. Willie’s scored in double figures in five of the last seven games, and continues to show off an increasingly deadly hook shot that has us rethinking whom we should call Rufio. Speaking of Kyle Wiltjer, he had another off-night shooting wise, going 1-7 from the field for two points. However, Cal said afterward that the team needs Kyle’s toughness more than his offense right now.
— Jon Hood’s had this date circled on his “Pontoons of Kentucky Lake” calendar for months. Hood finally showed us what Cal’s been raving about during practice, putting up five points (including a three), three rebounds, one assist and one steal. Whether it was the weak opponent or the smell of spring boating season in the air, lake hair was caring.
— Another Kentucky boy getting it done was Jarrod Polson, who finished with nine points, three assists, and tied his career best for rebounds with four. After the game, Cal said that like Julius Mays, Jarrod relishes every moment he gets to spend in a Kentucky uniform: “Jarrod sticks on that uniform and he takes great pride in his chance to be in that uniform and doesn’t take it for granted.”
— In a true indicator of what kind of game this was, Twany Beckham checked in only to check out three minutes later in order to get on the stat sheet. That calls for extra sprinkles on your nightcap, Twany.
— It’s been a long time since every single player on the bench has been able to play, and for some of them, it showed. Brian Long was about to have the Rupp Arena moment of his dreams, going in for a layup…only to have it blocked:
Got my lay up blocked into next week lol
— Brian Long (@BrianLong32) February 28, 2013
I’m glad he appreciates the humor of that.
— Did tonight’s win teach us much about this team? Not really. If anything, they continued to build momentum after beating Missouri and heading on a tough two-game road stretch. But think about how grim things were eleven days ago when the team fell apart in Knoxville. Now, they’ve picked themselves up and are three wins away from a share of the SEC regular season title. Cal echoed those thoughts after the game:
“Look, this team, what we’ve been through in the last 10 days, you think about it. What this team has been through, what we’ve had to do to adjust to all the things happening around us. We had dirt thrown on us 10 days ago. The coffin was nailed shut and the dirt was thrown on us.”
Operation Keep the Coffin Open?