Before I get started with the game notes, allow me to opine a bit. Games like the one tonight are what make college basketball such an awesome sport. Any team can be beaten at any given time. Just today, Texas had to take an unranked Texas A&M team to overtime for a win at home. A #6 Purdue team lost to unranked Northwestern on the road. Unranked Louisville nearly upset #20 Pittsburgh with the Panthers needing an OT to win at home. This is what makes the game fun and Kentucky isn’t exempt. Every team has its warts and weaknesses. The best you can hope for is that the team plays hard and nobody gets hurt. I am all for critique of the team, but remember to keep it in check. While I (and my heart) wish the Cats would play better at times, I fully expect that if we were blowing out every team by 20, there would be severe rumblings about the team not being tested and not having to prove themselves in a tight game. College basketball is no longer a game where the haves can feast on the have-nots. And that is a good thing. Let’s get to the game.
-Most of the game was unremarkable, but I thought it was particularly telling as to who the Cats relied upon when the going got tough. John Wall showcased his superior speed when it mattered most, knifing through almost the entire Auburn defense for a trademark near-underneath-the-backboard layup late in the game. Wall and Boogie combined for the last 8 points of the game, with both players contributing 2 free throws each. When your star freshmen are this clutch, you are in good hands.
-Patrick Patterson didn’t get a shot off in the second half but did get two crucial assists. When the team is struggling to score like they were in the second half, making sure Black Kool-Aid gets a few looks should be one of the top priorities for this team.
-Darnell Dodson and Ramon Harris had horrible games. Darnell was 1-3 with 1 rebound and two of the uglier shots I have ever seen him attempt. Ramon was much worse with zeros across the board and 3 fouls. Both players need to step up their game in conference play if they want to keep seeing playing time. Calipari went out of his way to note the great contributions of both Perry Stevenson and DeAndre Liggins. It appears that the quartet of Liggins, Dodson, Stevenson, and Miller will continue to be a work in progress and cycle through the rotation as Cal goes with whichever player is hottest on a game-by-game basis.
-Three point shooting wasn’t as bad as I initially suspected. The Wildcats shot 35.7% for the game on 5-14 attempts. The free throw percentages were ok due to late game shots by Cousins and Wall, but early misses from the charity stripe by Orton, Patterson, and Cousins kept the Cats from putting the game away.
-Balance was the name of the game as 4 of the 5 Wildcat starters scored in double figures. Miller didn’t approach double digits, but his two spectacular blocks in the first half set the Tigers on their heels and helped the Cats develop a healthy lead.
-In a postgame interview, DeAndre Liggins talked about his role on the team. He was humble and stated that his job was to bring energy off the bench. “That’s what I do.” He talked about the rebound coming to him and that he just had to wrap up the ball and get fouled. It is seriously impressive to listen to this kid speak. Before the season, many thought his attitude would be a detriment to the team. Those feelings have been fully expunged after his play today. Anytime a player says, “I just try to come in and do what I can do to help us win” you know he gets it.
-Liggins also confirmed some of the Coach Cal philosophy. When asked about his 3-point shot with 10 minutes left to play (which extended a 1 point Wildcat lead to 4), Liggins said he took it because it was an open shot. “Coach wants us to take an open shot,” he said matter-of-factly, “I shot it with confidence and I made it.” His continued stellar play will be key for this team.
-Calipari noted how hot Auburn was in the second half and how fortunate the Cats were to win. “They were shooting 70% for probably 16 minutes of the second half,” said Cal. That is mind boggling. Coach went on to exclaim, “I can’t remember the last time a team did that to one of my teams.” Allow me to remind you, Coach.
-Cal continued with his criticism of his team and their inability to put opponents away when UK has a big lead. Calipari said that he told his team that certain players would start riding the pine when Kentucky had a lead because “they are hurting us in those situations.” I can’t imagine the level of intensity that Coach is going to bring to practice over the next week.
-Patterson addressed the streaky play of the Wildcats. He said while Calipari wants them to play hard for 40 minutes that the Cats had “a tendency to just play for 20-25 minutes a game.” He attributed the Tiger comeback to “Reed getting hot” and the opponents tenacity. Taking a page from Jay Williams, Patterson said that the Wildcats played too fast, took some rushed shots, and basically allowed Auburn to get back into the game. When asked if the ease in intensity was due to a lack of experience, Patterson dismissed the notion. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been through it. It is just a lack of doing the right thing.”
That sums it up pretty well. I never thought the Cats were going to lose, but they made it closer than expected. Chalk this one up to a learning experience and know that it will help us out come tournament time. Go Cats!
Calipari Postgame via BigBlueNationBlog (KY Kernel):