That was an ugly, ugly, ugly showing from your University of Kentucky Wildcats, but Big Blue Nation has Julius Mays to thank for his contributions in the 72-68 win. Uncle Julius was the team’s rock, its leading scorer, and, surprisingly, the guy who drew the assignment of guarding Elston Turner on almost every A&M offensive possession. He played all but four minutes in the game and was clutch at the line in overtime, sinking two free throw attempts to extend Kentucky’s lead to three on two separate trips to the stripe down the stretch. It was an all-around great game from the old man who emerged from role player to Most Valuable Player in College Station.
Fans have a lot to complain about; John Calipari has a lot to be frustrated with; but Kentucky escaped with the win, and that’s all that really matters. Returning to Rupp with two wins in that crucial two-game road stretch has the Cats on track to earn a decent seed in the tournament and give Florida a run for the SEC crown. That “bubble” talk was getting really old.
Let’s close the books on Elston Turner and the Texas A&M Aggies…
Elston Turner was the storyline entering Saturday’s game and his quest to kill Goliath was almost successful once again when he hit a floater with a friendly bounce at the end of regulation to force overtime. Before the clutch bucket, that had us all saying, “not again,” Turner was just 5-for-19 from the field and inconsistent and erratic in his shot selection. It was nothing like what he did to the Wildcats in Round 1 in Lexington when he couldn’t miss. Still, he was the game’s high-scorer with 21 points and put a little fear, we can admit it, in #BBN every time he touched the ball down the stretch. Kudos to Julius, again, for playing great perimeter defense on him. I can’t believe it came down to that.
If there’s one positive to watching Elston Turner send the game to overtime, it’s that UK cut into Indiana’s primetime GameDay special. A little silver lining for your popcorn boxes.
Though the Cats never relinquished the lead after a 9-o start, they did everything they possibly could to try to give it away. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer combined for six turnovers in the final 2:07 of regulation, which left the door open for A&M to hang around when Kentucky’s should’ve put the game away instead. This team still lacks the ability to close games and that will eventually cost them, even more than it already has, if they can’t find that killer instinct soon. Teams like Florida and Missouri would’ve turned A&M’s late deficit into a win with the opportunities Kentucky was giving up. There’s no excuse to go almost four minutes without a field goal at the end of regulation in a game you’ve led since the opening basket. And that lone field goal was a Julius Mays prayer as the shot clock expired. Had that not gone down, Kentucky would’ve played the final eight minutes of the game without a field goal.
The big game from Julius Mays meant one thing for Archie Goodwin: have a seat, young fella. Archie played a season-low 19 minutes and rode the pine next to Coach Cal in the game’s biggest moments. Calipari stuck with the Harrow-Mays-Poythress-Wiltjer-Noel lineup in crunch time, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with that decision.
Archie will find a spot on the SportCenter Top 10, though:
He is now shooting 0.00931% with that shot on the season.
After the game, Calipari said, “Wherever Archie sees Turner, leave. If it’s a pickup game, go home. Don’t go near the guy.” So you’re telling me we don’t want to draw A&M in the SEC Tournament?
Who is Nerlends?
This “Nerlends” guy played well, as he always does, but came back down to Earth in the blocks category. Nerlends only had two blocks after a six-game stretch of averaging 7.5 per game. I guess he moved that defensive prowess to the offensive end, where he scored a career-high 19 points to share the team-high honors with Julius Mays. Throw in his 14 rebounds and Nerlends had his third career double-double.
The mustard to Nerlends’ ketchup, Willie Cauley-Stein, returned to the lineup and played his first four minutes since the Tennessee game. It wasn’t much but it was good seeing Willie back out on the court. He was certainly missed.
Kyle Wiltjer and Alex Poythress both had up-and-down games. It seems like they each played well and not-so-well in stretches. Kentucky fans were ready to pat Alex on the back when the knocked down two key free throws at the end of regulation, until he came right down on the other end and gave up an offensive rebound to Fabyon Harris. Poythress can go ahead and count on seeing that play in Sunday’s film session, because it was a big slip-up that could’ve cost Kentucky the game. Harris was able to cut A&M’s deficit to two, instead of Poythress going back to the line with 19 seconds and a four-point UK lead. Wiltjer turned the ball over in a trap in the corner on the very next possession, which led to Turner’s late heroics and overtime in College Station.
If you were watching the game on television, you were treated to a late thriller in Lawrence, Kansas that cost us about five of the first seven minutes of the UK game. Then, for whatever reason, ESPN cut to a Kansas statistical graphic and highlights from Miami and NC State, when UK-A&M was in progress! ESPN knows better than that. You don’t take Kentucky basketball away from #BBN for anything.
Kentucky returns to action on Tuesday when Frank Martin and South Carolina come to town in the teams’ lone matchup of the season. Game time is set for 9:00 ET and will air on ESPNU.
See ya back here Sunday morning, folks.