photo by Charles Bertram
Sometimes we all need a good shaking. Nothing too serious. Just a little realization that when our thoughts have slowly drifted a bit too far away from current reality, it may be time to take a step back and re-evaluate. That was what tonight’s 74-38 victory over Campbellsville should be for Kentucky fans: a realization that this is a very talented team, but one with quite a ways to go. You cant blame Calipari for not accepting that reality. He has been telling Kentucky fans three things all summer: he has been from Pikeville to Paducah, he is a Duke of Hazard and this team has a long way to go. We processed the first two, but it may have taken the sight of the first 16 minutes of the second half tonight to process the third one.
There was a lot of good to see on the court. It is clear that Eric Bledsoe is an elite player already for the Cats. He was the most explosive player on the floor and made the (very few) plays that would constitute highlights for the night. It is also great to see that Darnell Dodson is taking the whole “look like/wear number of” Ramel Bradley thing seriously, taking a lot of shots and creating points when needed. And the defense….absent a few lapses in the second half, the defense was very good for most of the night and smothered Campbellsville into a 3-34 start to their shooting night. All great teams play great defense and this team showed that it will be a reality this season.
With the good did come some bad, and we will dive a bit into that below. However this much is clear. The Calipari era will be exciting, full of talent and loaded with potential. You could see potential greatness all over the court and the entire feel of the game is different than in the last two seasons. Yes you can see it in the change of one former starter into a crowd favorite reserve, but you can also see it in the flashes of brilliance from players, even as they make mistakes. Yes Patrick Patterson missed that jumper from the top of the key…but you know he can make it. Yes Demarcus Cousins missed the close-in layup in traffic…but you know soon he will dunk it. Yes Darnell Dodson took some bad shots close to the basket…but you know when John Wall takes them, they will be better and will go in. This team is oozing potential and thus a night like tonight feels more like the opening act of a potential great story than the preview of its ultimate finale.
Some notes (and yes, the Buzz Baker shoutout to KSR was cool):
— The revelation of the game to me was the play of Eric Bledsoe. I knew the kid was very talented and some basketball people I respect raved about him even before his arrival on campus. But what he has done since he has been in Lexington is phenomenal. He has such great vision on the court and finds his teammates in great spots. He can take it to the basket and finish with authority, a bit like Keith Bogans at his best. And his hands on defense are so quick, that he can nab a basketball and be down the court before the other guard even knows what has happened. John Wall isnt the only PG on the UK roster that is the truth.
— It is clear that the Cats have a “gunner” in Darnell Dodson. That however may not be bad. For a lot of the game tonight, the team looked a bit like the reserve team in the Blue-White game, with no one looking to create offense by going to the basket. Dodson showed that he will do it, leading the team with 19 points. I ultimately dont expect him to have those kind of numbers every game, but he does give the team something it needs…a shooter and a confident penetrator off the PG position.
— I wish some of his confidence would rub off on Darius Miller, who still looks quite timid. Miller is at his best when he is an offensive presence for the Cats. While he is a decent defender, he isnt great. Thus for him to be a huge upgrade over the other options at the wing (which he is), he has to perform on offense. He blends in too much and doesnt seem assertive. I hope that keeps improving, but has not shown a great change from last year in the first two games.
— I loved the play of Big Cuz and Orton down low. I am sure if Calipari thought this game was in danger, he would have had both players take shots from the post and dominate the smaller opponents. However instead, he had both guys working the perimeter and mid-range games and I loved the aggressiveness of both. For Cuz, it is all about consistent effort…when he gives that (which he did for the most part tonight), he will be special.
— A lot of the talk on the Live Blog tonight was about Patrick Patterson and his DDO performance. Patterson only had four points and spent most of his time on the perimeter. I do think that figuring out Pat’s role in the offense is one of the things Calipari is trying to do to optimize Pat’s tremendous gifts. Tonight he was rarely down low, but in games where it matters, he will be. I read very little into this game tonight for Pat and my guess is that you will see him have a huge game on Friday night.
— Decent performances from Jon Hood and Ramon Harris, both of whom are probably competiting against each other for minutes. They each played well, Hood showcasing more on offense and Harris on defense, as is to be expected. Ramon continues his knack for playing more than people think, mostly because of his consistent defensive effort. Hood showed his offensive ability and will provide scoring in limited roles. The competition for backup wing time is between the two of them and both did well tonight.
— I was very pleased to see “The Microwave” Perry Stevenson have a big night. Buzz Baker’s ode to Vinnie Johnson applied to Purry as well, as he had 11 points in 5 minutes. Stevenson actually looked like the one guy who had the DDO down well, scoring off the dribble, drawing fouls and making a three pointer. I was glad to see that for Purry, who has had a pretty bad fall on the practice floor. He probably has to pass Josh Harrellson to make his way into the rotation and tonight’s late performance may give him some confidence to do that.
— Deandre Liggins didnt see the floor during the entire game. Three weeks ago, some around the program were praising what Liggins had done and said that the fans would see a new DeAndre this year. Since then, things have fallen off for Liggins and tonight has to be a difficult night for him. But dont give up just yet. They still like some of what they have seen from Liggins and it is very early to know for sure how his role will play out during the year.
Finally, I know it goes against our general need to panic, but I find very little to worry about this game. If you think that UK will have any more games this season in which their two best players (Patterson and Wall) combine to score four points, then you are probably a new investor in the newspaper industry. This game was sloppy, the team was sluggish and mistakes were plentiful. But there will only be one more UK game without John Wall and probably no more in which Kentucky will play the style and method they did tonight. Fans now know that this team isnt 1996 UK today. But that doesnt mean they cant be really good very soon.
From John Clay’s blog, this video of Patterson after the game: