Well, that was fun. Kind of. Maybe? Well, not really. Anyway, good morning and welcome to Tuesday. And congratulations on making it through the UK basketball non-conference slate. The stretch of non-SEC foes ended with a second half bang in Rupp Monday night as Kentucky surged past a feisty Penn Quakers squad. While it signaled the end of pre-SEC games, the showdown also brought the Big Blue Nation a little closer to Penn coach and former NBA player Jerome Allen, who not only appears to be Tony Delk’s twin, but also sports the first head coach neck tattoos in the history of Rupp Arena. Allen’s team fought hard and Tyler Bernardini did a first-half Crispin brother impersonation that will be remembered for at least a day or two. After the game, Allen repeatedly answered questions by starting with “I respect the game”. Well, Jerome Allen, we respect you. And that Tony Delk mask you wear so delicately above your neck tattoos. Good game, Coach.
Now onto some extended but brief UK notes…
– For the first time this season, Kentucky found themselves playing flat out of the gate as Penn raced out to a double-digit lead. Kentucky’s non-conference schedule was littered with mid-major and mid-minor teams just like every team in America, but many of those teams were considered to be among the best in their conferences and had serious upset potential. But, Kentucky came out ready to play in every game and never found themselves in a contest where an upset seemed like a possibility. We’ve talked about it a number of times and Calipari himself mentioned it yesterday afternoon. But, for whatever reason, the Cats did not come out clicking and Penn made a push for an upset. Give the Cats credit, though, for responding in a positive fashion and clamping down on defense and firing back. Not the way you draw it up, but it’s another big step for a young team.
– As Kentucky clamped down on defense, a familiar friend returned. The blocked shotwas again in Kentucky’s defensive repertoire as the team finished with 11 and Josh Harrellson had six by himself. The Cats do not have a player that can be identified as a pure shot-blocker, but, in the last two games (they were credited with seven against Louisville, but there seemed to be much more), as a team they’re making it much harder for their opponents to get good looks around the rim. On last year’s team, there was an abundance of size and athleticism in the post and the Cats seemed to sometimes be chasing a block, which would leave them out of position on defense. This year’s squad seems to be using it effectively as a last line of defense. Along with rebounding, the shot-blocking is another area of expected weakness that seems to be improving with every game.
– In terms of individual performances, Brandon Knight might have been the most impressive. His 22 points were tops for the team and the turnaround coincided with a spurt of offense from the freshman point guard. After the game, Coach Cal said that he was impressed with the offensive efficiency in a second half in which the team shot 18-22 from the field and that Knight, who committed zero turnovers against a team that constantly changed its defensive looks, was a big reason for that. Cal also commended him for his defense on Penn’s leading scorer Zack Rosen. After looking so shaky and uncertain of himself early in the season, Knight continues to develop into an All-American type player. Calipari even said after the game that Knight is a “different player” than he was in Hawaii and noted how proud he was of his freshman point guard.
– It seems like we’re spending about half of our time saying this, but another outstanding performance from Josh Harrellson. Jorts finished with another double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds) and his effort inside was again a spark for a team that was struggling to hit shots early. Jorts notched double-digits in rebounds for the eighth time this season. For perspective, in the first 14 games of last year, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson each reached that mark six times. After the game, Coach Cal again talked about his “changed habits” and said that the goal now is to get Eloy Vargas to do the same.
– Just as was the case with the Cats, Darius Miller’s two halvescouldn’t have been more different. In the first half, Miller seemed to spend as much time laying on the floor or flopping to get a call as he did making a basketball play and the Cats struggled. In the second, Miller looked completely different and finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds and a career-high six assists. Calipari said he was pleased with the second half performance, but added that he expects Darius to be an “All-League” player and that, to do so, he needs to start “mixing it up”. Cal joked that the media is writing stories when he gets 7 points and 7 rebounds because everyone is surprised and that shouldn’t be the case. He should be making a difference for the entire game.
– One thing that was particularly interesting was the lack of playing time for Stacey Poole and Jon Hood, even when the game had turned into a blowout. Calipari spoke on Sunday about those two, along with Eloy Vargas, needing to make a change and find a way to get on the court. For Hood, it seems to be a defensive issue and for Poole, it appears to be a number of things. But, as Cal has said so many times in regard to DeAndre Liggins, he’ll keep you on the court if you’re struggling, as long as you’re playing defense and the effort is there. The Cats have survived with essentially a six-man rotation so far, but you have to hope that one of those guys makes a move to get some clock. The most likely candidate is Hood, but, again, it’s going to start with defense. He has to find a reason for Cal to want him on the court when he’s not knocking down shots, which he hasn’t done consistently to this point.
– Now that we got all that Penn nonsense out of the way, the internet is again abuzz tonight with rumors of DeAndre Daniels and his recruitment. After a bogus rumor surfaced on Monday that he had eliminated the Cats from contention, the latest rumor circulating is that he has committed to Kansas. Evan Daniels of Scout.com said that, as of writing this, there is no decision yet. However, he followed by saying that he does believe that Kansas is the leader at the moment, but that could change. It’s going to be a fun Tuesday!
– In the other waiting game, we seemed to get another little extension as the NCAA’s Chuck Wynne told Brett Dawson that an Enes Kanter decision would likely not come until the end of this week or early next week. As has been the case throughout, no one seems to know what the ruling will be or what it will mean for UK. The wait continues…
– In case you missed it,Renardo Sidneyis back on Mississippi State after his indefinite suspension lasted twice as long as the last one – two games. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about how crazy it is that beating up a teammate in the crowd earns you two games on the sideline, but Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg made an excellent point. For better or worse, these two decisions have intertwined the fate of Renardo Sidney and Rick Stansbury. If this doesn’t work out, Stansbury has pretty much used up all of the blame on Sidney that he can. Another incident and Stansbury is going to be as much to blame and likely to receive the ramifications as Sidney is. I’m not sure Renardo Sidney is a guy I want to cast my fate with.
– If you still consider Auburn an SEC school, there was some good news for you as the Tigers beat Florida State Monday night. Obviously, this makes the SEC look a little better (which isn’t hard to do). And, more importantly, it makes it only slightly more possible that the basketball team can win more games than the football team this year. I’m still not banking on it.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned throughout the day as we rehash some of the finer points of the Penn game and continue to get you set for the start of conference play and the BBVA Compass Bowl. And we do a little DeAndre Daniels watch too. The fun gets going on Kentucky Sports Radio at 10 am on 1080 AM. Make sure you check it out. In the meantime, pour out a little liquor for Alex Tyus’ dreads. They will be missed.
See you in a few..