8 seconds to go…..Mississippi State inbounding the ball, with the Cats attempting to steal and get a chance at a winning shot or to foul and hope for another Mississippi State miss. If you watched the entire game, you would read the above scenario and be really proud of the effort by the Wildcats. On a night where everything seemed to go wrong…..a Samaki Walker revisit by Vernado….an officiating crew that put the “play” in “let em play”….an off night by Patterson playing his first conference game on the road….injuries to two of the Cats top players….and Jamont Gordon continuing his other-worldly performances whenever Kentucky is the name on the other jersey….even with all that, the Cats were there at the end with a chance to win. After a night that had the Turkey Hunter saying it looked like the Cats were cast in a Sonic “Get that Weak Tot Action Out of Here” commercial, you really have to be pleased about that chain of events.
To me, the storyline of the game from a Kentucky standpoint was simple….its time to give some props to the Senior class. For many Kentucky fans, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley are very difficult to like….they go one-on-one all the time, are shoot first-pass second players and both often look as if their minds are in other places. But what has often been lost about both of these guys is that they have tremendous desire to succeed in a Kentucky uniform. Both young men want to win as much as any Kentucky player in recent years, and in Bradley’s case, losses eat at him constantly. Both have struggled to find a way to work in Billy Clyde’s system and watching the three of them interact has been, at times, painful. But both parties seem to have bent, and now you have nights like tonight where these guys put their bodies on the line to try and will a Cats victory out of nothing.
After the San Diego loss, I believe Coach Clyde reached an epihany (or as Larry Vaught said on our show tonight, “a come to Jesus” realization). If the Cats are going to have any success this year, the Coach has to let Ramel and Joe be Ramel and Joe. That means lots of one-on-one drives to the basket (which in Joe’s case, are some of the best we have seen by a UK guard in my lifetime), lots of shots that make you shake your head, and a number of turnovers. But it also means a great deal of passion and a team that plays to its strengths, rather than attempting to create strengths where they dont exist. Ramel and Joe are (with Patterson) the ONLY offense on this team when Meeks and Jasper are hurt….they have to do their thing or Kentucky simply cant win.
Tonight was a perfect example. After a quick start (which included a Coury jumper, a Ramon drive to the basket and a Porter banked-in three pointer), the Cats became bogged down on offense. So what did Billy do….he adjusted, to glorious results. Patterson was brought out from under the basket, opening up penetration lanes and allowing both players to take their men off the dribble. As we discussed on the show tonight, beating Mississippi State would require a different type of game plan, specifically because of their ability to block shots. The Cats struggled with that plan early, but executed it at the end….and had they been given the benefit of at least a couple of foul calls on the penetration, they may have pulled out the victory.
At the end of the day, this was always going to be a tough game for UK to win. The number one defensive team in the conference was playing against a team that struggles to put any points on the board…..pulling it out would not be easy. However by the strength of the will-power of a couple of Seniors who have been much-maligned and at times are openly disliked by some of the fan base, the Cats were able to put themselves in a position to have a chance to win on the road against the best team in the SEC West. That is a great accomplishment and one that the fans should feel good about.
A couple of other notes….
— Has there ever been a player who was more confident he could score at any point than the Coury Flurry? Two air ball spin moves and he is taking a jumper the next time he gets it…..nothing like an unwavering belief in self.
— AJ Stewart comes in with a couple of minutes to go….I sure would like to have seen him earlier.
— I sound like a broken record, but I like everything I see about the Razor
— Was that Mark Krebs on the court? Were the local authorities warned about the potential for destruction?
— That wont be the last technical Billy Clyde gets in his days in Lexington
— Patrick Patterson struggled tonight, as in the Louisville game. He needs to work on figuring out offensive moves when he goes against a guy that has him outsized. I expect him to make adjustments as he is simply too good otherwise.
— Michael Porter comes in, plays a couple of minutes, banks in a 3….that kid has the oddest things happen to him.
— I just knew in the first half that Vernado was getting a triple double….you could just feel it. Move over Crispin Brothers, you have company in the “random players who we all remember in the future.”
— I didnt like the officiating, but if the Cats were better, they could have adjusted. It was clear from the outset that they werent calling the contact created on drives to the basket. If the team was more balanced, it could have adjusted. As it was, (as we were concerned about), this cut off a great deal of UK’s offense and led to the final result.
— I would like to see these two teams play again. Plug in Meeks and Jasper and they go down.