On Sunday, the best basketball player in the world, LeBron James, turns 28 years old. There’s really no need for introduction as you unquestionably know his celebrity and likely formed a strong opinion about him in one way or another. Whether you like him or not, James’ talent is undeniable. LeBron’s career will inevitably put him amongst the all time greats; he averages 27.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists lifetime per game. His awards list is almost too long to type; 8-time NBA All-Star, 2-time All-Star Game MVP, 3-time NBA MVP, and even a 4-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive team. However, his critics were quick to let anyone know that he hadn’t won an NBA title. That changed in 2012 as LeBron led his Miami Heat the promised land and took home a Finals MVP in the process. In addition to the accolades and accomplishments, he remains a good friend to the University of Kentucky basketball program. Not that John Calipari needs help recruiting, but that endorsement is pretty huge. So have a good one, Lebron, we here at KSR wish you well.
One story dominated the Commonwealth’s airwaves today and it was the big game in the KFC Yum! Center. It’s well known by now that Kentucky fell short of a fifth straight victory over the rival Cardinals by a final tally of 77-80. The game itself didn’t disappoint from the entertainment perspective, though. A late second half comeback mounted by the road underdog is always fun to be a part of. Unfortunately for Kentucky, the end result didn’t shake out the way fans would’ve hoped. This was largely (if not solely) due to the poor free throw shooting and inability to care for the ball. To put it politely, the free throw shooting was abysmal. Kentucky finished the game shooting 47.6% from the line. That’s not going to win many games against an opponent the caliber of Louisville. Turnovers were another factor that ultimately handed the victory to Pitino’s Cardinals. On the day, Kentucky lost the ball on 14 occasions (20% of possessions) which created numerous easy scoring opportunities for Louisville.
Judging from the reactions of players and fans, it feels as though Kentucky let one slip away on the road. However, one must appreciate the effort and intensity showed during the second half rally. It would’ve been easy for Kentucky to quit when trailing 17 points in a hostile road environment that wanted nothing more than a blowout victory over a rival. But, credit to them, they persevered and nearly won the contest. Before this game, many questioned whether or not this team possessed “it”. The question was answered today, it’s now clear this Kentucky team, when clicking, has the potential to not only finish the season with a strong record, but potentially make a deep tournament run. In his post game presser, John Calipari even dropped an “I like my team.” However, this team’s true potential cannot be reached without all members performing to the level of their talent, and unfortunately some didn’t (some longer than others).
The stat sheet shows 7 points and 5 rebounds, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d say Poythress played anywhere near well today. It was clear early on that he looked rattled by the environment and he certainly played like it. In a career low 15 minutes of play, he turned the ball over twice, committed 2 fouls, and only connected on 2-6 free throws. Truthfully, it was just an absolute no show from a player Kentucky cannot afford to be without.
If you were to pick an MVP on Kentucky’s roster from today’s game, it’d be Ryan Harrow. His stat line today was highly impressive, scoring 17 points, pulling down 5 rebounds, dishing out 3 assists, and finally stealing the ball from Louisville on 2 occasions. The most impressive statistic? Zero turnovers. This is especially impressive for two reasons. One, the perceived “soft” nature he was tagged with early in the season. And two, the hyper-aggressive, ball hawking nature of Louisville’s defense which forces turnovers on 30.8 percent of possessions (1st nationally). Given this, Harrow played one hell of a game.
Cauley-Stein may not have had the prettiest stat line of the game, but he was invaluable to the comeback effort. Not only did his defensive intensity aid in the game, but his dunk mid-way through the second half ignited the second half rally. He finished with 6 points and 8 rebounds. However, it wasn’t all pretty for Cauley-Stein, he was (officially) 0-4 from the free throw line (technically 0-6), which was a trend throughout the game for Kentucky.
Wiltjer also had played an instrumental role in today’s comeback effort, scoring 14 points in only 19 minutes played. He was 4-7 from the field and was the only player to shoot 100% from the free throw line. Also, he was able to pull down 3 rebounds and dish out an assist. However, his lack of athleticism showed on his three turnovers.
It was a tale of two Archie’s for Mr. Goodwin tonight. In the first half he played like a Freshman would in a hostile environment, only posting 3 points. However, in the second half, he came alive, scoring 19 of his 22. He kept the game close in the waning moments when he converted on a rare 4-point play, but it was too much to overcome. While he showed flashes of brilliance, he struggled with ball control as he coughed it up on 5 occasions.
Nerlens was also instrumental in keeping Kentucky from being blown out of the building. He played with his trademark intensity and filled nearly every column on the stat sheet. He only finished with 8 points, but he did so efficiently on 4-5 shooting from the field. In addition, he had 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 2 steals, and (officially) 2 blocks. Seriously he was only credited with 2 blocks. That’s highway robbery. Also, like his teammates, he played well through a very “physical” game.
If you were to only examine the statistics, you would come away thinking Julius Mays had the worst game of anybody tonight, and offensively that may be true. He finished with a highly under-whelming 3 points on 1-8 shooting from the field. However, he was receiving open looks, they just never fell. Mays has been in quite the slump lately, only shooting 1-15 (6.7%) from beyond the arc in his last three games. In spite of his offense, his defensive effort today was helpful in slowing Louisville from making any further runs.
In more comedic news, CBS likely cost Mitch McConnell re-election tonight when an ad was run during the game supporting Louisville’s Athletic Director, Tom Jurich. I’m not a political adviser (though I play one on the internet), but that cannot be good for your popularity in a Wildcat blue state. His entire commentary can be read here. It’s worth noting that McConnell is an alumnus of both Universities.