We usually dedicate the night posts to famous people celebrating birthdays or historical events, but today, this News and Views only has eyes for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (whose real birthday is September 26th). The talented freshman’s performance during the Loyola game may not have looked that flashy on the box score (15 points, seven rebounds and four assists), but when you consider that Gilchrist found out on Wednesday night that his mother, Cindy Richardson, was in the hospital, you truly see the depth of his character. Calipari said in his postgame comments that after discussing it with his family, Michael decided to wait until after the game to fly home because he didn’t want to let down his team. We don’t have a lot of details on Gilchrist’s mother’s condition, just that she was taken to the hospital a few days ago and will stay there through Christmas; hopefully, the situation isn’t too dire, considering Gilchrist’s family gave him the blessing to stay at Lexington to play instead of immediately coming home Wednesday night. In fact, on Thursday afternoon, Cindy (@vincin1) tweeted thanks to several Kentucky fans for their support and well-wishes. I speak for all of us at KSR when I wish her the fullest and speediest of recoveries. Also, thanks for an awesome son (more on him later).
Now, quit your sniffling and let’s move on.
— In case you were at work and unable to catch the game (or a victim of the ESPN3 blackout), the Cats pulled out an 87-63 victory over Loyola (Maryland). Let’s just say, it wasn’t very pretty, especially the first half. Most of the players, save Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, seemed to be more concerned about getting home than playing basketball. Loyola hung tough in the first half, clearly not intimidated by the Cats or Rupp, nailing three three-pointers in the first five minutes. Loyola’s spunk was best illustrated by Erik Etherly’s monstrous dunk over Anthony Davis, who hurried under the basket to help Kyle Wiltjer out on defense. Etherly’s dunk was reminiscent of Travis Leslie’s over DeMarcus Cousins back in 2010, and will surely be one of the few times that Davis will be on the receiving end of a play like that.
After the game, Cal said the team “all needs a break” and that he finds himself “fighting” his guys too often. He singled out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis for their focus and aggression during the game, saying they were the only players who “tried to rebound” in the first half: “I’m not fighting Anthony and Michael because they’re getting after it. But I’m fighting my point guard to be a point guard. I’m fighting Darius to be tougher. I’m fighting Kyle to play defense.”
— Tired of MKG love yet? Good. To piggy-back on what I was saying earlier, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continues to be this team’s most valuable player. While his teammates rotate impressive offensive performances, Gilchrist is a constant catalyst on both sides of the floor, fighting for boards, finishing down low, and providing a spark when his team needs it the most. He is unquestionably this squad’s “glue guy,” who has seized the role of leader with things like the “Breakfast Club” and team-first attitude. Calipari knows this better than anyone and in postgame remarks, gave Michael credit for “dragging” the team along:
“He’s doing it whether it’s rebounding, scoring, making free throws, making 3s when he has to. In transition if you give it to him ahead of the pack and it’s him and one guy, he’s scoring 99.9 percent of the time or he’s going to get fouled. You know, he drags us in practice, he drags us in morning workouts.”
The praise didn’t stop there. Loyola’s coach, Jimmy Patsos, said Gilchrist proved him wrong in thinking that his team might have an advantage at MKG’s position: “He’s not flashy, he just drives the ball. He makes a lot of little plays, drove in, kicked it, got a rebound. Fifteen, seven and four assists. He was better than I thought.”
— It was nice to see Kyle Wiltjer show everyone what an offensive threat he can be, with a career-high 24 points off 7-11 shooting, including 3-6 from the arc. With Terrence Jones sidelined with an injury, Wiltjer has logged a lot of minutes in the past few games, and it has paid off with improved confidence and shot selection. However, while Wiltjer’s presence on offense is encouraging, his lack of presence on defense remains a concern. Wiltjer’s defensive struggles against teams like Loyola and Samford are frustrating, considering that Louisville and the SEC schedule are right around the corner. In postgame comments, Cal touched on the Catch-22, saying that he would have to find some defensive schemes that work for Wiltjer in order to justify keeping the sharp-shooting freshman in the game.
— Aside from being absolutely posterized by Erik Etherly (which was really Wiltjer’s fault), Anthony Davis had another solid performance, with 15 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. So far this season, Davis has had five double-doubles and seven games with four or more blocks. He’s on pace to get 148 blocks this season, which is absolutely ridiculous when you consider the current UK record is 83.
— Marquis Teague and Darius Miller had decent games, with nine and thirteen points respectively. Teague gave fans a scare when he limped off the court in the second half, but returned to play shortly thereafter. Eloy Vargas showed Loyola’s Jordan Latham that centaurs don’t mess around late in the second half when the two scuffled over a rebound. Things looked like they might get heated, causing Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to leap off the bench to go defend their teammate, but Coach Robic made them sit back down. It’s good to see the mild-mannered Eloy show some fire…any guesses as to what Latham said to piss him off?
— A few recruiting tidbits:
If you missed it below, 2012 SG Torian Grahm decommited from NC State on Thursday. Grahm is ranked the 11th best shooting guard by Scout.com and was once one of Cal’s targets in the class. His decommitment isn’t reason to break out the bubbly just yet, but it should be an interesting story to follow over over the next few weeks.
Jarnell Stokes confirmed the world’s worst secret on Thursday night when he committed to Tennessee. He will enroll in January and play this season. With no mid-year scholarship available for him at Kentucky, Stokes’ decision is hardly surprising, but it’s still sad to see someone choose to wear orange willingly. See you on January 14th, Jarnell.
— In 2013 recruiting news, Scout.com confirmed that 2013 SF Troy Williams will visit campus for the Louisville game next weekend. 2013 big man Austin Nichols also visited (unofficially) for the Loyola game today. And because the man doesn’t know how to rest, John Calipari watched Jabari Parker face off against Jahlil Okafor on Thursday night.
— Former Cat Chuck Hayes got a double dose of good news on Thursday, when doctors at the Cleveland Clinic announced that he has no heart problems and cleared him to play professional ball again. Hayes underwent extensive tests over the past few days, and a clean bill of health is one hell of a Christmas present for him and his family, as is the Sacramento Kings’ invitation to rejoin the team. According to SI.com, the Kings signed Hayes to a guaranteed four-year deal. Attaboy, Chuck.
— According to our man Oscar Combs, Lexington mayor Jim Gray said on Thursday that naming rights to the reinvented Rupp Arena will be on the table. Silly me, I thought the whole reason we were renovating Rupp instead of building a new arena was to preserve tradition and a collegiate environment? #moneytalks
With that little thought-provoking niblet, I will retire for the evening. We’ll be back bright and early with all the UK news you can shake a poinsettia at. Matt and company have the day off, so the radio show will be a rerun. Don’t be sad! Let this picture of Oscar Combs with children cheer you up: