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Three lessons in three games

(Photo by Britney McIntosh/UK Athletics)

The Cats came out Tuesday night ready to show the world they deserved the No. 1 ranking, and the boys in blue put it to the Georgia Bulldogs. Along with picking up its 20th win, Kentucky also put to rest any bad-luck mojo of playing on the road as the top team that seemed to be building over the last few seasons. We’re 21 games through, which means the season is almost halfway over, if Kentucky does what we all think it can and go all the way to the National Championship game.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been awfully impressed with the way the Cats have played over the last few games against Arkansas, Alabama and on the road at Georgia. It may not have all the flashiness we saw against the early-season cupcakes, and it may not have a flawless boxscore for every player, but this stretch of three games was the most impressive and most inspiring of the season, and here’s why.

Everyone had their moments, both good and bad. But what really stands out to me is even as one player dips below what they’re capable of for a brief time, the rest of his teammates are right there to pick up the slack. Basketball is a team sport, and despite the possible temptation of demanding the spotlight, this Kentucky squad of future NBA players really embraces it. This shows the true potential and almost tangible motives they have. The team doesn’t care about impressing NBA scouts who are in the stands ogling over their potential, and they don’t care if they only score 57 points. It seems to me this team is honestly in it for the long haul; they want a National Championship no matter the cost. I don’t want to discredit any other Kentucky team and infer none other did, but this team just has that fire in them, and it’s still being stoked.

Kentucky handled Arkansas’ speed with ease and broke the press so well the Razorbacks completely abandoned their plan. It was said before the game that if Arkansas had any chance at winning it was matching Kentucky’s intensity stride-for-stride. Well, that didn’t work out. Kentucky beat North Carolina’s speed, Kansas’ speed and Arkansas’ speed. I don’t think there’s a team in the country that will be able to match up with Kentucky’s athleticism. Syracuse and Ohio State are really the only options, but even then Syracuse slows it down with a zone, and Ohio State has been somewhat underwhelming thus far. Regardless, Arkansas proved one way not to beat Kentucky.

Alabama brought the house down low and did more than attempt to bruise Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis. Needless to say, it didn’t work either. Despite one of his quieter days, Davis still was a factor on defense, leading the Alabama players to alter their shots just by his presence. That’s the beauty of Davis; he doesn’t even need to do anything for his effect to be felt. While Davis was contained Jones broke free, becoming the team’s leading scorer with 15. He was aggressive; he rebounded and most importantly scored over physical defenders and pushed back. While the team may have become reliant on Davis posting ridiculous figures they could have easily found a way to lose when he wasn’t scoring. But they didn’t, others found a way to win. So with that, Alabama proved another way not to beat Kentucky.

Georgia tried to zone Kentucky, and that only opened up the three point shot for the whole crew. Darius Miller was unbelievable, Doron Lamb fired it up, and Kyle Wiltjer redeemed himself for his mistakes early in the game. I’ve been saying for weeks that Kentucky needs to shoot more from outside, and Georgia made it happen. Marquis Teague had a field day driving and dishing on the soft Bulldogs defense and his seven assists to zero turnovers proves it. As a pure point guard, Marquis Teague was awesome and did exactly what will take the Cats to the next level. Georgia proved a zone is not how to beat Kentucky.

We learned three valuable lessons in this stretch of games: You can’t beat Kentucky by out running them, out matching them with size, or by slowing them down with a zone. Of course, Kentucky will see better teams this year, but these games will serve as a blueprint going forward and become a learning tool for future opponents. Each player should have learned something too: Marquis Teague can slow down to limit turnovers and increase court awareness to find open teammates. Doron Lamb should remain active without the ball and continue to create for himself. Darius Miller is really finding a hot streak and needs to keep shooting. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should realize he doesn’t need to take on so much pressure and become frustrated; there are four other guys on the floor with that same “will to win” attitude. Terrence Jones is becoming a garbage man (and that’s a compliment) — not doing things in the prettiest ways but getting it done nonetheless. Anthony Davis may be factored out with double or triple teams, but he’s got a basketball mind and can still put himself in the right place at the right time. And Kyle Wiltjer, well, he’s still a work-in-progress, but that boy sure can shoot!

Even though the stats may suggest a tune-up game in late November was the “best,” this three game stretch of Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia proved more to me than any amount of points, rebounds or assists these guys get. When you have a team of leaders, and any one person willing to step up in any given situation, it breeds competition and promotes a healthy model for player development. That’s what this Kentucky team is all about. You don’t need experience, a detailed playbook, or even us rabid fans. Because these Kentucky players have shown they have the heart like so many teams before them, they have continuing progress to back it up, and most importantly, that burning desire to just flat-out win. That’s all we do.

Article written by Stuart Hammer

B.S. Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kentucky. @StuartHammerKSR

30 Comments for Three lessons in three games

  1. hersheyisabear
    12:49 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink


    12:49 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Is it just me or does Darius look absolutely enormous next to everyone else?

  3. Don
    12:53 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Not bad up to the last paragraph.

  4. Anthony Davis Has A Posse
    12:55 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

  5. kyrobman
    12:56 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    I think at Vandy and Miss St. will tell us if they have that will to win and if they can pull it out. Vandy is tough and can really pour it on if UK does have any mental lapses. Those are the games that I figure we will get excited about. But I think on a neutral floor we beat anyone including a lot of NBA teams.

  6. Sholler
    12:58 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    I’m excited about the Vandy game. The old “youth vs. experience” type of game.

  7. John O
    12:58 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    KSR researchers, someone asked me the youngest team to ever win the NCAA tourney. Do any of you know? I know the Fab 5 would have been, but they didn’t do it. I guess we would be talking starting 5 based on classification in school.

  8. Jiminy Cricket
    12:58 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Nicely done..

  9. guest
    1:00 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    “…this three game stretch…proved more to me…”
    I agree. Before this stretch I certainly thought we could become the best team come March, but wasn’t sure. Now I have no doubt that in the next month or so we’ll be the best team in the country, if we’re not there already.

  10. ???
    1:02 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    5 – You think we’d beat a lot of NBA teams? What is wrong with you?

  11. Donnie
    1:04 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Cool story, brah.

  12. UKBigDaddy
    1:06 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    THANKS!!!!! This is the type of post that the majority of readers (and patrons of the advertising companies) enjoy reading. This is why people hit refresh to catch the newest UK gossip and race to be first to post! Thank you Stuart!

  13. Blue
    1:08 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    I like most of your points, but on your comment about this team needing to shoot more from the perimeter, I don’t necessarily agree with it. While, overall, we shoot the ball well from 3, I don’t want to see this team fall in love with the outside jump shot. We have so many weapons that we don’t necessarily have to shoot teams out of zoning us. We’ve proven we can beat a zone by attacking the middle, free throw line extended, and the short corner. The on-ball screen has been effective, as well.

    What is setting this team apart from Calipari’s two previous squads is that we are beating zones in a variety of ways by attacking it. You can’t just stand around and shoot jump shots all day, because eventually they’ll stop falling (see West Virginia, 2010). We are still using the dribble drive, screening against it, knocking down mid-range shots, and using excellent passing to beat the zone. Despite some people’s criticism, this is probably the best passing team we’ve had since Chuck Hayes and company.

    Teams will continue to zone us, but we are learning how to beat it without settling for perimeter shots the whole time. Yes, against UGA we were knocking them down, but a lot of that was because they were such open looks, set up by an aggressive, attacking style, even against a defense designed to slow us down.

  14. Bledsoe's Biceps
    1:34 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    A well done post. Nice job of pointing out the different styles of play that were involved and reasons to be optimistic. Thanks.

  15. MG
    1:37 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Bringin the Hammer, Stuart!

  16. Tobias Funke
    1:38 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Stu: Why do you troll so hard on twitter? Makes you like terribly unprofessional and childish. You were publically blocked last night by Mengus22 who has like 6000 followers. Might want to think before you tweet, especially with KSR next to your handle.

  17. Nutwrap
    1:38 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    The Hammer bringing it down. Good post; I like the positivity.

  18. Yep
    2:01 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    #2. I was thinking the same thing.

  19. Tobias Funke
    2:03 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    look not like

  20. InternationalPhilosophy
    2:06 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    AD: “We hate to lose.”

  21. Catcounsel
    2:29 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Very good post!

  22. Platinum Unis
    2:51 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    13, I have to disagree with you about the 3 pointer. Nodbody said we need to fall in love with it, but Lamb and Miller have some of the higher percentages in UK history and Wiltjer is, right now anyway, more or less a specialist who needs to utilize his niche anyway. Even Jones has a pretty looking rainbow. We should be able to knock down 6-9 threes every game, especially as teams continue to zone. We also have the inside presence to rebound the misses.

  23. Jimbo
    3:03 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Sure this is positive, but what the hell does it bring to the table? You’re telling us things we already know and you didn’t provide any stats. “UK works hard!” woohooo. No crap they work hard, they’re 20-1. And Ohio State hasn’t been impressive? Have you watch them? Probably not.

  24. UK64
    3:34 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    The photo reminds me of the guys getting ready for the gunfight at the OK Coral. Hope they stay that way.

  25. Jimtown Catfan
    3:54 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Hammer, i love the article. I was thinking exactly the same thing. No matter what style the are facing, these Cats are adjusting and finding a way to gut it out. A different Cat is leading us in scoring, with the constant being the smothering defense. I am really looking forward to future games with Vandy and Florida on the road. That will be the true measuring stick for this team. I have been pleased so far this season and really have emjoyed watching this group of Cayts!!! Go Big Blue!

    We are dominating the Oraqnge on that poll. If you havent voted yet, do it now. Lets show them what the Kentucky Effect is all about

  26. TheNewOriginal
    4:17 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Very good job.

  27. JBR
    5:56 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    Ummm…#2…maybe because Darius is closer to the camera than the other guys…I know this technology stuff is crazy, but pretty simple answer there…

  28. sweetJ
    6:44 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    If the cats had really “put it to Georgia”, then they should have won by 30. If Georgia knew how to get the ball in the basket, the Cats would have gone down. The Cats only scored 5 points during a 10 minute stretch. A great team would have put them away.

  29. Bulldawg
    7:35 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    enjoyed this post. I agree that these games have been good tune up games heading into the meat of the schedule. IMO the schedule has been set up great so far. If the Cats just get a little better each game they will be the “Unbeatables” come March and April. GBB!!!!!

    }as another commenter shared, I like this for an AD symbol BROW DOWN }:)

  30. Carl
    10:44 pm January 26, 2012 Permalink

    One of the better analysis I’ve seen on this site. Nice insight.