Its games like this that make being a Kentucky fan so great. A national television audience (complete with an announcer appearance by the great Gus Johnson), a full house of Kentucky fans ready for blood and a team that was fired up and ready to try and redeem itself made Rupp Arena a great place to be once again on Saturday. Since I have been covering these games for the last four years, there are a number of signs of a big game. First of all, the local media folks all come out…..not just the sports reporters, but the “lifestyle” reporters as well, meaning lots of young guys with gel and men with hairspray. Then there is a different type of food in the media room….all-beef hotdogs, instead of the pork variety and a special “nacho” celebration at halftime that leaves huge smiles on most of the reporters’ faces. And then there are the appearances by the national media types….tonight we saw Mike Decourcey, Pat Forde and Dick “Hoops” Weiss all make their way to Lexington….sure, it was to see if Vandy was for real, but they were there and that meant that a real game was taking place.
When the game itself started, UK showed it was up to the task of taking down one of the nation’s five remaining unbeatens. For most of the game, Patrick Patterson looked like an absolute beast, Joe Crawford a defensive warrior and Mark Coury a spry little offensive threat. You had the tail of two halves from Ramel Bradley….in the first he scored no points and was a distributor point guard the likes of which we rarely see from Smooth. The second half, he took the big shots….and missed some, but made enough to win. We had a solid game once again from Razor Ramon and an inconsistent, but still important game from Perry Stevenson. All in all, it was a tremendous performance from an effort standpoint for the Cats, and maybe even more importantly from a confidence standpoint. Losing the big lead and allowing Vandy back in isnt good….but what more than makes up for it is that everyone and their brother thought the Cats were done when the game went to overtime….but they stayed strong, battled with maximum effort and got a crucial win that can have important ramifications.
But you know all that….you saw the game. What you didnt see was what went on in the press conference and backstage. Here are some notes….
(1) GILLISPIE: It continues to be fascinating to me to watch Billy Clyde at these press conferences. Win, lose, place or show, Billy Gillispie has his same demeanor that is sort of like a little kid in Sunday School trying to act interested while he would rather be sleeping. Hidden beneath his monotone answers and somewhat plain demeanor are interesting nuggets, but full of emotion he is not. Some quotes from today that I found interesting:
— Gillispie thought the defensive effort was “very, very good” and that he was happy “that we won the battle on the boards by a large margin.” but what made him the most pleased was the consistent effort. “There wasnt a possession alll day where we didnt play with complete effort. That is what we have to do.”
— For the first time maybe all season, the Coach was effusive in his praise for Joe Crawford. “Joe was great all day long. No one has to tell Joe to me more aggressive on offense. But today he gave it all on defense every time down the court. I am very proud of him.” Very nice to hear and the sight of he and Joe walking off the court with their arms around each other was one of the nicer of the day.
— Gillispie also was very happy with what he saw from Mark Coury. “I thought Mark playe dthe best game he has played all year. He did everything he could to help us win.”
— The exchange of the night however came when a young reporter asked Gillispie what he thought about the fact that the players “bought into his system for the first time all year.” Gillispie stared directly at him and said, “well, I think you’re wrong.” He then proceeded to say that he thought the team has bought in all season and that they dont get enough credit for being as tough as they are. Good moment watching the coach take up for his kids.
(2) JOE CRAWFORD: This will likely go down as one of the best Joe Crawford games that we have seen him play at Kentucky, and he did it without scoring huge amounts of points. His defense on Shan Foster drew praise from both coaches. Joe had this to say about his performance: “We needed this game pretty bad for our confidence. I knew Shan Foster was one of toughest players in America to guard and I was kind of worn out playing defense on him all day. But it was great to win.” He then added, “we were real excited (in the locker room after the game) because it was a big win and we competed until the end. We showed we are capable of beating good teams.”
(3) RAMEL BRADLEY: The man they call Smooth had an up and down game, but ended up mostly up. After the game, he came to the press room wearing a UK jacket, flannel pants and UK house shoes….evoking a fashion display that was equal parts “laid back college student” and “my grandmother when she gets chilly.” But you could see the joy on his face after the game. He said, “we were real happy when we won. This is what we are supposed to do.” He reiterated his goal to go 16-0 in the SEC. “Why not? That has to be your goal or there is no reason to play.” As for the play at the end of regulation where he was called for a walk when many believed he was fouled he said with a big grin, “yeah I was fouled….but we won, so I aint going to worry about that play.”
(4) PATRICK PATTERSON: Maybe the happiest guy in the post-game lockerroom was Patrick PAtterson. He said that having never played 50 minutes in a game, he was tired but “this feels great, I cant tell you how good it is.” He said the matchup with Ogilvy pumped him up and that he knew “this was a big game and I had to play big against their best players.” He said the victory builds confidence, “Coach says we arent 7-7 but we are 1-0 and that is our mentality.” But ultimately, this win is huge for the team’s confidence, “this is why I came to Kentucky….for games like this.” Great to see the kid’s genuine happiness in the win.
(5) MARK COURY THE MOTIVATOR: Interesting story from Ramel Bradley, who praised the play of the Flurry, but also his motivational ploys. He said, “Mark isnt really a vocal guy, but he kept getting in the huddle and saying ‘COME ON, LETS DO IT!’ and he was really loud and into it. And you know, seeing Mark do that we knew we had to bring it!”
(6) THE CROWD: Virtually every player and both coaches mentioned the crowd as a huge factor. Gillispie said the crowd provided a huge boost and this thought was echoed by Ramon Harris as well who said, “when they get loud, I get hyped. It is the best thing in the world to hear them yell.” Remember that the next time you are telling the person in front of you to sit down so you can watch the game.
(7) FUN FACTS: Couple of big statistics from the game. This was Vandy’s lowest scoring game of the year, even though the game went to 2OTs. The Cats won the second chance point battle 18-2, even though they were outsized most of the game. And Patrick Patterson’s 23 points and 12 boards gives him his third (20-10) game of the year, the most ever for a UK freshman.
All in all, a great day in Rupp Arena. Very exciting as the buzz was back and the team showed a sense of happiness that I simply havent seen all year. Great to watch. Plus, Dick “Hoops” Weiss told me he reads this blog a few times every week….you cant beat that. Now comes Mississippi State on Tuesday and the chance to make an SEC start to remember. Enjoy the win folks. We will (finally) have the recruiting update tomorrow, along with a funny story from behind the bench….