Christmas break is off to a great start for Kentucky as the Cats are 2-0 since putting the books away for the rest of 2011. Win the one against Loyola on Thursday afternoon and that fruit cake will taste even sweeter on Christmas Day.
In Tuesday night’s contest against Samford, Kentucky used hot shooting and overpowering athleticism to win it going away, 82-50. The Bulldogs were never even a match for Kentucky.
Merry Christmas, Martin Newton.
Let’s talk about it…
— Don’t look now but Kentucky has an offensive phenom on the rise in Doron Lamb. Lamb has always been a great shooter from outside but in the past few games he has shown some moves and an aggression we haven’t really seen from him before. Tonight, he led all Kentucky scorers with a season-high 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 shooting from downtown. His game is evolving with each and every game on Kentucky’s schedule and he’s on his way to being the MVP for UK’s offense come March. He came out in this one firing on all cylinders and you just knew he was going to put up big numbers. And that he did.
— While Doron came out aggressive early on, the four guys around him were getting it done early as well. Kentucky jumped out to an early 11-0 lead thanks to stifling defense (that pressure is brutal on these under-matched teams) that turned into four unanswered layups and a three-pointer by Lamb in the opening minutes. Samford needed a timeout to regroup just two minutes into the game before it got too out of hand. Unfortunately, just as they did last week, Kentucky lost a little bit of that momentum and defensive pressure midway through the first half and gave up some easy buckets to the Bulldogs on consecutive possessions. *** This is called trying to find something wrong with a double-digit lead. ***
— I know the first thing Coach Cal is going to tell his players in practice tomorrow: GUARD THE BACKDOOR! I can’t remember a basketball game on any level where a team successfully pulled off so many backdoor cuts. I’d venture to say Samford scored as many as 20 points off slashing players and picture-perfect backdoor passes. A lot of that can be credited to Samford’s Princeton offense — they’re VERY well coached — but the majority of the blame goes on Kentucky’s defenders letting their man sneak away from them at the rim. UK can get away with this stuff in mid-December, but giving up so many easy buckets on backdoor plays won’t fly against teams with a similar style in March. Get ’em in shape, Cal.
— Darius Miller got the start tonight for the injured Terrence Jones — who went with brown plaid as his bench attire — and Miller made the most of the opportunity. He played 31 minutes, an extra seven above his season-average, scoring 17 points with five assists and no turnovers. Above all that, he finally broke out of that shooting slump we talked about earlier this morning. Darius knocked down his first three-point attempt about six minutes into the game and the look on his face showed that whatever monkey has been on his back was just knocked off. He would go on to hit three of his six attempts from long range. Oscar Combs said he saw Miller on the court getting shots up by himself at 5:00 — two hours before tip-off — and I guess the extra work paid off. Welcome back, Darius. *Three Goggles*
— Another guy on Kentucky’s team is struggling from downtown and it has nothing to do with the ball not going in the rim. I don’t know what is going on inside Kyle Wiltjer’s head but the kid is not taking shots when he has wide open looks. Multiple times against Samford he had an open look at a three, only to pump fake, take one dribble to his left, and then turn and kick it back out. It got to the point where the crowd was giving him the Jarrod Polson “SHOOT!” treatment in the second half. Wiltjer has been a pretty good shooter from beyond the arc this season so I don’t know what has gotten to him to take away his confidence. Wiltjer played in a season-high 22 minutes against Samford but only managed to score five points and grab four rebounds. I hate to put it on the guy because he’s young and I really like him but he was a liability on defense at times, too. He’ll be fine, though. He has plenty of time to improve.
— Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a fairly quiet (uncharacteristic of him) but solid game. He scored ten points with two assists and two rebounds. He made the most noise after the game when he told the media that the first breakfast club was set up by him and it included Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer, and Jarrod Polson. If you had those five names in your office pool, you are the winner. I did not have those five names. MKG says other players are planning on joining the 8:30 a.m. festivities. He also said he wants to be a team leader and he admitted to being timid at first, because he didn’t want to try to lead over the veterans. “But now I’m OK with it,” he said. “I want to be the team leader. It’s all about chemistry.” You gotta love hearing that.
— Anthony Davis had another Anthony Davis-type game. The Kentucky big man scored eights points, mostly dunks, to go with nine rebounds and five blocked shots. His put-back dunk on the Wiltjer missed lay-up after getting the steal was an awesome sequence that sent the crowd into a roar.
— Marquis Teague scored 14 points to go along with five assists and four turnovers. After the game, Calipari talked about Teague’s jumpshot. “What we’re saying to him offensively shooting the ball, you’re only shooting to keep them honest. You shoot jumpers to keep them honest. If someone is on you, you’re not shooting a jumper. Drive the ball, get it started up.” Cal said he will take Teague out of the game if he shoots with a man in his face. That’s the time to drive and over the past few games, Teague has been showing how well he can drive and get to the basket.
— Twany Beckham logged some unexpected minutes in the first half. He didn’t take any shots but he did grab three rebounds and dish one assist. I was on “Twany Watch” for the live blog so he was the only guy I watched when he was in the game. He still looks nervous out there but he showed his strength and athleticism when going up for some of those rebounds. For Twany, it’ll all just be about getting comfortable in the flow of the game and developing in Cal’s system.
— Eloy needed a different set of hands out there tonight. He boxed out great and was in position for almost every ball that came off the rim, but he slapped a lot of them around that he could’ve hauled in. Still, the big fella pulled down seven rebounds (he could’ve had 20) with two points in 17 minutes of action. Eloy is becoming exactly the guy Kentucky needs him to be. Just go in there, fight for boards and loose balls, and play sound defense.
— Other random notes and box score:
— Kentucky started the game hitting 16 of its first 20 shots. The Cats followed that up with a 10-for-31 stretch.
— Doron Lamb tied careers best with six rebounds and three steals.
— 21,984 in Rupp Arena tonight. Not the best showing but it’s Christmas break.
— Kentucky made at least half of its shots for the fifth time this season.