photo by Ed Reinke
I have to admit…that was fun. In a game that was closer than most UK fans would have preferred, the Cats pulled out a 72-70 win that begins the legend of John Wall in Lexington. The Cats had a lot going against them throughout the contest. Miami was super hot, making 15 out of 26 threes. Kentucky had some of its better players have an off night, with Eric Bledsoe in particular struggling. Miami played with unbelievable poise and emotion, coming back when the game looked to be firmly in UK’s favor. But even with those difficulties, Kentucky found a way to win, when John Wall took the ball after a game-tying three pointer by Miami and raced down the court, hitting a mid-range jumper with just .5 seconds left to ensure the win.
Many fans will grumble about the play during the game and there was a sense of frustration from some about the closeness of the final score. But for me, those questions fade in importance. Kentucky got an exciting win that they would have lost in the past two seasons, and in so doing, protected home court, while learning valuable lessons. This Kentucky team can be very good…but it is far from perfect now. Games like this will come throughout the year, and for the Cats to get down 18 early, fight back and win at the end…that can do nothing but help this team. So I disagree with those that look at tonight as a negative. I watched a young team grow up before our very eyes and a fanbase experience the joy of winning again…all the while beginning the legend of one of the best to wear the jersey. Thats not too bad to me.
— John Calipari was certainly relieved after the game, walking into the press room and saying, “I cant believe we won the game.” While he praised the Miami effort and pointed out the mistakes of his team, his overall theme was a positive one. He said he was “esctatic” when the team went down 18, so he could see what his team was made of (hard for me to believe that). But he also said that he felt like this game showed him why he liked his team so much. From Patterson’s two big free throws, to Cousins’ big shots to Wall’s jumper, he said this was a game that will pay long-term dividends for the team.
— The star of the show off the court tonight was Miami Coach Charlie Coles, who gave the best press conference performance I have ever seen in Rupp. I admit that I have loved Coles for a long time, but tonight he was in rare form. In his mock turtleneck and dressed dapper, Coles set down and proceeded to have the media eating out of his hand. He talked of his reverence for the Big Blue and how great it is to “have a player so hot, the Big Blue go ‘oh noooo’ when he shoots.” But the highlight was when Dick Gabriel asked him “how did the game get away from you.” Coles then shook his head and said, “I cant believe you asked that. Why dont you ask John why it was so close.” He laughed and said, “They are the Big Blue…where have you been?” And he continued to shake his head at the question, saying “Oh my lord…where are you from?” It was all in good spirit, but it was hilarious nonetheless and my hope is that a video of the exchange shows up online some time soon.
UPDATE: Here is the audio of the Coles presser from the Herald Leader’s site. It is brilliant….THIS IS A MUST LISTEN….TRUST ME, YOU WANT TO LISTEN.
— Coles also took a minute to say that he really liked the UK kids. He mentioned how polite John Wall is, even with his hype. He noted that Cousins came over before the game to introduce himself and he spoke of how great it was to see talent without the trash talk. He was clearly a fan of the entire UK team.
— Speaking of the team, a few player notes:
John Wall — finished with 19 points and the game winner. He was 10-14 from the free throw line, but Calipari said in the future, he simply cant miss them at the end.
Patrick Patterson — Pat had 17 points and 10 rebounds, another double-double and solid overall performance. Calipari said afterwards he needed for Pat to not make “silly mistakes” but praised him for his play at the end saying, “thats just what Pat does.”
Demarcus Cousins — The man they call “Boogie” was great in the second half. He had 10 points and 10 boards, but more importantly, dominated in the last five minutes. Calipari said he wanted Cousins to smile more…something KSR noted long ago, which led to this funny interview:
Boogie talking after the game from Clay’s blog (and yes that is me asking the question about Cal saying he didnt smile and Jerry Tipton saying, “why dont you smile” in a Tipton-like way):
Eric Bledsoe — Not a great game for Bledsoe, who found himself often playing out of control. We did find out after the game that Calipari wants him taking free throws at the end of contests and that the last inbounds when Wall was fouled was designed to get the ball to Eric.
Darnell Dodson — You shouldnt look past Darnell, who only finished with 9 points, but whose points were crucial in the first half, stopping the Miami rally. His three point shooting was the difference in taking an 18 point lead and cutting it to three at the end.
Jon Hood — Calipari said after the game that he probably should have played Hood a bit, but that after missing the first half, he didnt want to start him in the second. Expect him to see time next game.
Overall, it was a welcome win on a night that Rupp was rocking, especially in the second half. This team is fun, and while it can be frustrating at times, you can see the potential and you know good things lie ahead. After the game, Charlie Coles said that if they had one it would have been the “best of my career” and you could tell he really meant it. Considering this is a coach who has been to the Sweet 16, that says something about the talent on this team. It was a great night to be in Rupp and it was great to get a win. There will be a lot of naysayers about the game and the performance, but dont listen to them. In the end, this game will be a net positive and is one that will be referenced during the year. And oh yeah, it was Wall’s first game-winner…here is guessing it wont be his last.
The Wall game-winning shot: