The 2-9 Hartford Hawks, as expected, didn’t put up much of a fight against the Cats tonight in Rupp, letting the Cats hang 104 easy points on them in a blowout win. The big story, though, was the record-setting performance of John Wall, who recorded 16 assists, breaking the previous record (15) held by Travis Ford, who celebrated his 40th birthday on Tuesday. In their final game before Louisville, Kentucky looked as dominant as they have at any point all season against a supremely inferior opponent. DeMarcus Cousins complemented Wall’s assists with another double-double (19 and 12) and Darnell Dodson knocked down six threes on his way to 19 points. Here are a couple of quick notes (Matt might stop by with some more later):
– After John Wall broke Travis Ford’s record with Perry Stevenson’s free throw line jumper, he exited the game to a standing ovation. The coolest moment, though, came when Wall arrived at the bench and DeMarcus Cousins led the student section in chanting Wall’s name. One of the coolest things about this year’s team is the way that, despite all the indiviual talent, every person on the team seems to sincerely care for each other and a very noticeable bond between Wall and Cousins has developed. In the post-game interviews, Cousins took a microphone from a reporter and started poking Wall in the ear and joking with him while he gave an interview. It’s nice to see the team having as much fun together as the rest of us are having watching them.
– The admiration for Wall didn’t end there, either. Cousins said after the game that Wall could go for 50 points in a game like that, but instead chose 16 assists, which is why teammates love him so much. One-and-done players often get a bad reputation for being selfish or being in school simply to bide time until a paycheck. While there is no doubt that Wall is a millionaire-in-waiting, you can tell he genuinely love his college experience. Tonight again showcased that.
– When asked about his feelings on his team’s performance, Calipari said that he felt the team played well on both ends of the floor. Offensively, the Cats earned assists on 30 of their 41 baskets and committed only 7 turnovers, both their best performances of the year (28 and 8 against UNC-Asheville).
– For me, I was impressed to see the incredible effort displayed by Kentucky in a completely meaningless (outside of the win, of course) game. When a timeout was called five and a half minutes into the first half, the Cats were already out to a huge lead and DeMarcus Cousins already had six points and six rebounds. Wall and Cousins could both be seen sucking wind already in the huddle, which is a beautiful thing to anyone who saw a slightly uninspired first half effort against Long Beach State. The effort continued throughout the entire game, with every player getting after it on defense and playing unselfish basketball. Whatever Cal said this week certainly worked.
– Calipari also mentioned that Darius Miller was the key to the team and that when he plays well, so do the Cats. Miller had a season-high 16 points, mixing four three-pointers in with his potent runner. He also added 5 assists and a rebound.
– In the second half, Kentucky showed a little bit of zone on the defensive end, which Cal said was a holiday addition to their playbook. The open threes that Hartford hit in the second half, according to Cal, were a product of a few guys not knowing how to play the defense properly.
– Once again, Cal stressed that he wants UK fans to be “classy” when they head to Rupp on Saturday. He said he’d like no signs or chants against the Filthy Cards, a plea that I think might fall on some deaf ears.
– Cal also dished out an interesting assessment on Louisville, saying the Cards are the best outside shooting team UK has faced this year and that they have a physical big man down low. I’ve been told I can’t make my Rick Pitino joke here, so I”ll just say taht someone needs to get Cal this year’s footage of U of L asap. I don’t think we’re watching the same two teams.
– Late in his media get-together, Calipari was asked about another man-like performance of DeMarcus Cousins and Cal referred to Boogie as “a beast” on three separate occasions. When Cousins was asked if that was his new nickname, he simply said “Just add it to the list”.
– The star of the post-game again was DeMarcus Cousins who said he knows nothing about Louisville. He told reporters that the Cards tried to recruit him but he had no interest. When asked why not, he said he didn’t want to really elaborate. He did, however issue this quote: “People on Facebook tell me we can lose every game so long as we beat Louisville. Thats crazy.” Crazy, but very serious, sir.
– There was no doubt that this was a compete mismatch, but it was nice to see Kentucky use their size to exploit the Hawks by outrebounding them 39-26 and likely setting the record for most alley-oops in one game. It’s tough to pat a team on the back for doing something that they should do quite easily, but you have to applaud them for doing exactly what they should have. Great teams take advantage of their mismatches and, though this game was pretty much one giant one, it was good to see them execute.
– Once again, Kentucky knocked down the three at an exceptional clip, hitting 14 of their 28 shots. I’ve mentioned this several times before, but it’s amazing to me that this team not only has shot the deep ball well, but at a record clip. They continue to have the best three-point percentage in UK history, which I think is an astonishing, but overlooked, nugget this season.
– Speaking of the three, Ramon Harris replaced Eric Bledsoe in the starting lineup, as UK’s best three-point shooter sat out the game with an ankle injury.
– Lost partially in all of the John Wall excitement was the outstanding performance of Darnell Dodson, who recorded season (and career) highs of 19 points and 8 rebounds. The sophomore from Maryland hit six of his ten three point attempts and, despite firing up 15 shots, showed better shot selection on offense than he has in games past.
Overall, it was a pretty much a 40-minute highlight reel highlighted by John Wall’s record performance. However, when you look closely at the effort displayed on defense and the improvements in areas like turnovers and ball movement, it was another sign of a step forward from a rapidly improving team. Kentucky won’t win anything for beating down a pretty terrible Hartford team, but there were a number of positives to take away from the game. Saturday is going to be a lot of fun. Matt might be by in a bit with some more. In the meantime, enjoy John Wall!