Let’s put a bow on the Cats taking care of business in a must-win game in Columbia…
–Brandon Knight was the leader in the win, dropping 23 points and stabilizing the team down the stretch. Although he had trouble with South Carolina’s traps and pressure and had only two assists to five turnovers, he also shot 60% from the field and led the Cats’ mission to take the ball to the rim, as evidenced by his ten free throw attempts of which he hit nine. Knight is as natural a scorer as there is, but the way he is able to run the show is underrated. After he banged his knee and left the game, South Carolina went on a mini run to close the gap to 12. Knight then re-entered and went on a personal 8-2 run to stretch it back out to a comfortable margin, showing the difference in the team when he’s out and his ability to take it on his shoulders when the team needs it.
-The other outstanding performance on the day was from Darius Miller. While his 18-points and five rebounds are numbers he’s put up before, he showed an aggression and fire that was not only welcome, but effective in keeping the team’s intensity high. Miller looked good in the post and getting him looks underneath helped the Kentucky effort to get good shots going at the basket. He was 7-of-12 from the floor and looked composed throughout, including making some big shots in the second half. One can’t be too careful thinking that Miller has taken the next step, as he can be as frustrating as anyone. However, he notched his fourth straight double-figure scoring game and seemed to have an extra level of intensity and emotion in today’s game that we haven’t seen before and hope we’ll see more of in the future.
-Terrence Jones may have only put in 14 points, but he had to have close to the best monster jam-to-point ratio in modern history. He was back in the starting lineup, and started the game out by throwing down a pair of big-time dunks including one very reminiscent of his Maui jam on UConn. More importantly, he managed to escape the day without anything happening that we’ll see on Around the Horn Monday. It wasn’t a virtuoso performance from Jones, but he almost singlehandedly did the job of making sure the crowd couldn’t get into the game by repeatedly dunking hard enough that he almost hurt himself doing it.
–The Cats seemed determined not to come out as flat today as they’ve sometimes had a problem doing this season. Their pressure caused problems for Carolina, and Kentucky’s aggression got USC’s leading scorer Bruce Ellington in foul trouble and frustrated, effectively nullifying him. Kentucky was active on both ends and did a good job of challenging shots, showing the kind of focused defensive aggression that they’ve lacked in their road losses. The defense was much better, except for giving up too many offensive rebounds and letting South Carolina put together a flurry to close the gap to five late, but was primarily responsible for keying the win.
-That said, the aggression on defense was coupled with a patience on offense that was committed to getting the ball inside. The Cats made a point of getting to the rim and getting to the free throw line, making sure not to fall into the trap of shooting from outside that has troubled them away from home. Instead, they passed on some threes to get better looks going to the rack and it paid dividends in keeping the pressure on USC and taking the crowd out of it.
–24 of 29 from the free throw line. Not too bad and a big factor in a game that got a little testy late.
-Coach Cal made good on his words and got Jarrod Polson some clock in the game. Polson didn’t turn it over and looked good enough to warrant letting Cal use him to steal some minutes in the future. I think the fans have to stop yelling now.
-Absolutely wonderful when the ‘Go Big Blue’ chant took over the arena at the end. I love Kentucky fans.
-And finally, screw you Ramon Galloway. I didn’t hear one note of Sandstorm until you dunked in the second half. Eat my shorts.
A big win for the Cats, who now sit at 3-2 in the SEC ahead of their week off. The rematch with Georgia looms on the other side of the bye week and that game is one that could go a long way to deciding the SEC East. For now, though, enjoy the first road victory in the conference season for Kentucky. Someone will be along to write things about basketball and stuff tomorrow. Stay tuned…