Well, how was that for you guys? Your heart ok? Everything still working properly? Good. Let’s recap this badboy that was a tale of two halves.
-UK jumped out of the gate early as Rupp Arena was at a level that it hasn’t seen or heard in quite some time. Even Clark Kellogg was a bit rattled after John Wall’s near back-to-back fast break points early in the game. UNC was up 9-2 when the Tar Heels missed a long two-point jump shot. John Wall collected the rebound was off to the races with a fast break crossover dribble and mammoth Tarzan dunk that probably made the NBA scouts choke on their nachos. After a couple of turnovers by both squads, Daniel Orton blocked a shot from Ed Davis and rifled an outlet pass to Wall. Wall split two defenders for a crazy falling-out-of-bounds reverse layup that cut the lead to 3 and sent the crowd into an absolute tizzy. Ian Eagle yelled that the fans were “pumped out of their chairs” and Kellogg exclaimed, “Imma hafta put a break on my commentary when he’s (Wall) got it.” I have rarely seen a college basketball broadcast show a dunk replay twice in a row from two different angles, but that is exactly what CBS did for Wall’s dunk as they went into a tv timeout. I can’t count how many times this year John Wall has led a fast break. When I wondered this in the KSR chat room, one fan said that he simply teleports to the other end of the court. That is about the best way to describe it.
-The defense in the first half was simply stifling. UK peeled off a 16-0 run early due to numerous blocks, steals, and turnovers. The Cats were communicating on defense and the Tar Heels looked rattled and lost on offense. The 16-0 run developed into a 28-2 run that had many thinking the game would be a blowout. UNC wasn’t moving with the ball and settling for bad shots that weren’t going in. Carolina did creep back into the game a bit and by halftime only trailed the Cats by 15. It could have been a wider margin, but a few turn-overs and lapses in defense led to easy Tar Heel layups. Sloppy play prevented the Wildcats from running away and hiding. I know this can be frustrating, but it should be expected from a young team like Kentucky. The highs are super high, but the lows can be super low and learning to mitigate the trough is something that comes through experience.
-In the second half, John Wall’s cramps forced him into the locker room which meant the Cats had to rely on their other freshman point guard, Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe made some questionable decisions both with his shot selection and his ball movement. That, combined with Carolina’s suddenly hot shooting streak, allowed the Heels to cut the lead to 5 with 9:33 still to play. While many were begging for Wall’s return, allowing Bledsoe to work on his game and play through the mistakes will end up helping this team in the long run. It is much better overall for the Cats if Bledsoe gets serious playing time without Wall on the court. Call Wall’s cramps a blessing in disguise. It improves our depth immensely and tires out the other team. Sticking with Eric turned out to be a good call from Coach Cal as Bledsoe exploded for 7 points, 5 of which were clutch free throws, over the last two and a half minutes of regulation.
-Patrick Patterson, take a bow. When things were getting hairy and the Rupp Arena crowd was anxious, Patterson stepped up with key shots, steals, and rebounds. Patrick scored from inside, on jump shots, and from behind the arc for a game high 19 points. It is one thing to demonstrate your expanded skill set against lesser talent, but to showcase poise and confidence in such a big game with NBA talent scouts on hand is beyond huge. I think I speak for the entire Big Blue Nation when I say he will be truly missed next year.
-There was chatter about how many calls the refs were missing, but they seemed to do a fairly good job about letting the physical play occur for both teams. They obviously didn’t want this game to degrade into a free throw shooting contest, so they swallowed their whistles for most of the game. I know they had some extremely questionable calls (the John Wall charge late in the game while his defender was in the air being one of them) but overall it was pretty even.
-Gambling. The line was UK by 3. At the end of regulation, Will Graves jacked up a three with one second left to cut the margin of victory to 2 points. Yours truly predicted a Cats win by 5 and was cursing my luck. . .but not as much as anyone that bet on Kentucky to cover. Right now, in Vegas, Will Graves is simultaneously the most beloved and most hated man in college basketball.
Folks, this is exactly what we wanted and what we expected when UK hired John Calipari. We are 8-0 with national buzz and a win over North Carolina. Happy days are here again!