Sometimes I wonder if we as UK fans have the ability to enjoy prosperity without also embracing an impending sense of doom. Make no mistake, yesterday Kentucky played what may be the best team they will play all regular season. Read that sentence again. I will make a bet with you…with the possible exception of Mississippi State, Vanderbilt will be the highest seeded team UK will have faced when the NCAA brackets come out in March. And even though Kentucky handled Vanderbilt rather thoroughly, never losing a lead of more than 12 points at any point in the last 25 minutes of the game, some fans are still distraught. Two reasons seem to be the most common:
(1): Lack of a killer instinct
After the game, a couple of fans stopped me on my way out of Rupp and said, “when is this team going to start putting people away?” I was a bit perplexed about the question and asked what they meant and one said, “we were up 15 the entire game, but they never got up 30 so it would be over.” Think just a second about that sentence. Kentucky was playing the team in first place in the SEC and a team that had won 11 straight games coming into yesterday. Basically from the opening tip, they controlled the game and kept a double-digit lead, never really having any truly nervous moments. Yet these fans wondered how the Cats hadnt blown that same team out during the game. I shook my head and chuckled, thinking that some people truly amuse me.
But then I got home and heard the refrain repeated, on message boards, our comment sections and my radio show. Why cant we blow teams out, people asked…apparently forgetting about the Arkansas game last week. The reality is the Cats handled the game against Vandy almost perfectly yesterday. They played wonderfully in the first half, taking a 15 point lead to the locker room and then simply controlled the ball in the second half, exactly as Calipari asked them to do. I know fans want to see UK win by 40 every game, but that simply isnt reasonable. To take a Top 20 team and put together a victory in which they never cut it under 12 in the second half…in today’s college basketball world, that is a convincing victory and should be embraced, not critiqued.
(2) The John Wall Post-game Comments:
The other worry we have seen today comes from the Alan Cutler article in which he quoted John Wall about some concerns he had after the game. In the comments, Wall expressed a bit of frustration at some of his difficulties in the last couple of games and claimed that Calipari said he hadnt played well and he tries not to that criticism. He also stated that he hadnt been happy in the last couple of weeks and that he “hadnt been having fun” since league play had begun.
Now before everyone freaks out about this, I think a step back needs to be taken. There is no one that handles criticism better than Wall, both from the coach and outside sources. When Wall says that he tries not to listen to Calipari’s criticism, he isnt saying that he doesnt respect the Coach or that he doesnt want his advice, but simply that he is trying to block out distractions and play as well as he can. Also his comments about “not having fun” could be a reflection of things that have nothing to do with basketball and are part of the everyday ebb and flow of life as a teenager in the UK spotlight.
People need to understand how these interviews take place. When the four players are brought out to the media, they are immediately swarmed and peppered with questions. The guys are trying to come up with responses from media members that in Wall’s case, may number 25-30 circled around him. They dont parse their words to make sure they say exactly what they want, but rather are giving free-flowing thought and answering at that moment. Wall is a good talker and he answers your questions directly. But context matters, and in this case I think people are reading way too much into what he said. He was asked by some media member about Calipari telling the media on Friday that he had played poorly….which may have been the first time he had heard that Calipari made such a statement. To read something large into such a quick comment is, in my view, a mistake.
The team is 20-1…the players are generally happy and even though they have ups and downs, the team is still a Final Four contender and a national power. Enjoy more and worry less. The Cats are fine, and 15 point wins against Top 20 teams and random quotes given quickly do not change that fact.