Tonight was an odd night. I am not sure if it was the fact that Gregg Doyel called Bobby Petrino a “skank” on my ESPN Radio show, the overflowing joy I had from watching the “Beauty and the Geek” premiere, the dorkiness I felt when I found myself engrossed by the Hofstra-UNC Wilmington game on ESPN FullCourt, the residual shock of an Ann Coulter debate on the blog or the hilarity of the text messages I got after putting up the video below, but something didnt seem right. But then I remembered….I had been warning all year about the difficulty of the Houston game in Rupp Arena….and then it was here. And what happened? UK got all they wanted from the Cougars, winning by seven in a game they could have easily lost..
I had a hard time watching tonight, I must admit. The Cats were taking the view of the old Larry Gatlin song saying, “Houston Means that I am One Day Closer to You”, with “you” of course being the SEC season, and thus looking past the Cougars. The players’ heads never were really into this one and that is dangerous when you play a team like Houston…..full of firepower, athleticism and needless confidence. Houston was picked 2nd in Conference USA and while their season has been slow so far, I expect them to get hot come conference time. But nevertheless Kentucky is better…..and that was obvious…..yet the game was close…..which I knew it would be.
See Tubby Smith teams, except when they are great (98 and 03), simply dont blow teams out. The style of game leads to a controlled offense and defense and thus the game is always within reach for either team. However the way UK wins is that they maintain an 8-11 point lead throughout the game, which against a Tubby defense is like a 15-16 point lead, thus making a comeback difficult. But here is the rub…..play a team with the ability to score in transition or shoot (a la Houston) and that lead isnt safe…..even if you are more talented. Thus you can get snapped up and upset if you arent careful and dont put them away…..a weakness of Tubby Smith teams.
But having said all of that, the team did pull out a victory…..in large part thanks to gutsy play from some unlikely suspects. When did you ever think you would say that Sheray and rebounding would help lead a win? (well except against Indiana). But it did tonight as Thomas got more than his share of boards. And what about the toughness and grittiness of Jodie Meeks. The key play….a rebound on a free throw and ensuing three point play…..was classic Keith Bogans, the man Jodie is sure to become. He got a rebound by out jumping, but scored by out toughing……that is a great combination and is one of the reasons Meeks will be special.
This game is destined to be utterly forgettable. Sandwiched between the Bowl Game and conference play, no one cared about this game except Tubby Smith, Tom Penders and David Klingler. I think there is very little to get out of it, good or bad. Kentucky will play almost no one like Houston this year (although Tennessee is somewhat akin) and getting out of the game without a loss was positive. The team is 11-3, overlooked nationally (some say for good reason, others (me) say incorrectly), but ultimately this game will be of little consequence. What matters is that beginning Saturday in Oxford, the team hit some type of stride…..something it never found last year.
I thought this team would lose three games during the non-conference (to UCLA, UNC and Louisville), and they did. They are 11-3…..have a seven game win streak….and six winnable games to start the SEC season. At this point as a fan, you can either be optimistic or pessimistic…..to be fair there are reasons for both approaches. I choose optimism, because why the hell not? This team hasnt beaten anyone great but they havent lost to anyone bad. They havent looked wonderful, but they havent had stinkers like last year. They arent the prettiest team ever, but they have looked very nice at times. When faced with those options, I choose optimism…..and hey if it turns out to be wrong…..at least I was happy…..and not like this guy: