Among the many great parts of the past weekend in Lexington was the final appearance of the UK NBA players in the Bluegrass for some time. Thanks to the NBA getting their labor deal together, all of the NBA stars made Saturday their final hurrah in their old Kentucky home. John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Tayshaun Prince, Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson all came to the UK-UNC game before exiting to their various team camps on Sunday. I spoke with all of them briefly and they all talked about missing the chance to be around the city and their excitement about this year’s team. During the final moments of the clash on Saturday, no one cheered louder than John Wall when the Anthony Davis block was completed and he seemed as emotionally invested as anyone. It just goes to show that whether you are a lifelong fan, a Hollywood actor or a player who was only here for one year, when Rupp is rocking, you can’t help but get swept up in it.
To the news:
— The game on Saturday marked a huge moment of growth for this Kentucky team. While many fans of opposing schools (I am looking at you Louisville) attempt to downgrade the win by talking about the referees or neutral courts, I actually think Kentucky is the team who should feel the best about the game. North Carolina shot 61% from three point land, an accomplishment they may not repeat this entire season. Conversely, Kentucky went 4-17, a mark that they will only repeat during their most dismal performances. In every aspect of the game except from behind the arc, Kentucky outplayed North Carolina and had the three discrepancy even balanced out on an average basis, Kentucky wins by at least ten. What we saw then was Kentucky taking one of North Carolina’s best shots, staying with the Heels throughout and then acting the part of the more composed, clutch team down the stretch. For 32 minutes North Carolina controlled the game. But then in the last eight, a team composed mostly of Freshman and Sophomores played their best at winning time. That is a great sign.
— With that said, both teams should be proud as Saturday’s game was an absolutely unbelievable college basketball game. An NBA scout told Adam Zagoria afterwards that it was the best college game he had seen in 25 years of scouting. Virtually every reporter talked about how the matchup proved that UK-UNC are the two best teams in America and the talent was overwhelming. Chad Ford, the NBA Draft expert who focuses on evaluating college talent for a living told me without hesitation that it was “the best group of college talent in one game ever.” That happened in Lexington and you were a witness. Add to that, the fact that the game was played on an extremely high level and with players on both teams making huge shots/plays and it will always be a special game for UK and college basketball fans to remember.
— It also should be remembered that the fan atmosphere was the best for a UK game at Rupp in my lifetime. Fans began streaming into the arena an hour before the game and at 11:30, the place was nearly packed. There was a buzz in the building that I have only experienced pre-game 3 times since 2000 (the first Pitino game at UL, Florida in 2003 and Florida for College Gameday in 2007). From the opening tip through the final note of “My Old Kentucky Home”, the crowd was electric and at certain moments, it matched the loudest times the building has ever seen. The combination of the appearance of the NBA players, the famous UK actor/actress fans, the Speaker of the House and a fanbase that has been looking forward to this game for over a year, made the entire event feel special. When Rupp Arena is at its best, no place is better. And on Saturday the old barn and its fans put on one of its best shows of all time. It was one I will always remember.
— If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the 360 degree crowd picture at Rupp Arena from Saturday’s game. The KSR crew has spent an absurd amount of time on this picture today and has had way too much fun finding members of the crowd. The ability to tag people in the crowd has led to many funny (and some unfortunate) tags that have sprung up all over the picture. Poor Pat Forde seems to be taking it the worse, but the pictures tagged “The Situation” and “Colonel Sanders” did leave me laughing. If you spend too much time on this, you will become obsessed, but if you get a chance look for (among others), Josh Hopkins, Jack Conway, Evan Daniels, John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Tayshaun Prince, Bearded Guy, Pat Forde, Seth Davis, Beisner, Oscar Combs and me…all of whom I have found. Let me know if you see others. Oh yeah, and then there are these two as well:
— As far as actual on the court action, it does continue to be interesting to me to see who Calipari has in the game at crunch time. It seems to me that Calipari has basically decided to alternate between Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as the player on the bench in the key moments. Far be it from me to question Calipari, but for my money I would like to see Teague on the bench in those moments where UK will be in the halfcourt and need a bucket. I like Lamb at the points and Miller/Gilchrist both in the game, since they both are able to create their own shot. I worry about Teague’s late decisionmaking, as Saturday’s game showcased.
— On the football side of things, we will likely learn the future of Tee Martin this week. The folks I talk to around the program tell me that they believe Tee will be back at Kentucky and aren’t sure why there is so much noise in the other direction. It all depends on what Tennessee does and while I still think that if they come after him hard, it would be hard to retain him, it does seem that his leaving is not as of yet a done deal.
— Congrats to the Lady Cats, who pounded Louisville by 20 today at Memorial. I watched most of the game and this UK group is impressive, and getting better by the game. There is a big one in Rupp on Thursday against Duke and I hope people come and pack the house. This team could be a contender and makes UK the only program in the land with two teams in the top ten in college basketball.
We have a FULL day on KSR here for Monday. We take a final look at UNC, get ready for another week of a number one ranking and see the Hoosiers ahead. On KSR Radio, Mike Pratt will join me to talk about the basketball game and much more, while later in the week we will have extended talks with Mitch Barnhart on the year in UK football and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray on the Rupp Arena project. Both will be can’t-miss interviews. See you back here bright and early….