North Carolina got a shot at the nation’s unanimous No. 1 team in Rupp Arena today, and though the Heels gave a solid effort, Kentucky is just too damn good. The Cats led the entire game, all the way to the 84-70 final, with improved shooting and that smothering defense. It was the marquee home game on UK’s schedule and it was nothing but fun for Big Blue Nation from start to finish. Never a worry in the building.
What a day, what a dominant basketball team we have in Lexington.
1.) Willie Cauley-Stein is a star.
Fresh off his lengthy profile on Bleacher Report, Willie Cauley-Stein played one hell of a game against North Carolina, similar to the performance he gave us when Texas came to town last weekend. The big man finished with 15 points, six rebounds, two blocks and four steals in 29 minutes of action against the Heels. That effort will undoubtedly move him up a couple of spots on the draft boards, likely up to that top-five range, especially considering there was a busload of NBA scouts in the building and a national audience on CBS.
It hasn’t taken long for Willie to emerge as the star of this group and he’s making his case for early P.O.Y. talk by getting it done on both ends. He’s a thousand times more comfortable with the basketball than he was a year ago and his defense is second to none. For a guy his size to run the floor, play point man on the press and guard all five positions, WOW. He’s going to need a bigger bank account in June, after he carries UK to No. 9 in April, of course.
Coach Cal’s thoughts on his veteran center?
“He was Willie good today.”
Bad form, Coach.
2.) Tyler Ulis needs to be on the floor.
I’ve been hesitant to get anywhere near the Ulis-over-Harrison train, but the little fella is making it pretty difficult to argue against him. He had eight assists and one made three-pointer in 24 minutes, the most time he’s seen in a single game all year.
While I love what Andrew Harrison brings as a leader and as the team’s starting point guard, Ulis is just as capable of running the offense with the ball in his hands, if not a little better. He’s a difference-maker because he can distribute the rock like none other and lock down his man going the other way.
Today Calipari used Ulis and Andrew together and liked what he saw in the backcourt.
“He was tremendous,” Cal said of the freshman. “He and Andrew were good together.”
3.) Kentucky shot 46.7 percent from three-point land; Devin Booker had the hottest hand.
Booker matched Cauley-Stein’s 15 points to lead the Wildcats in scoring on 5-of-8 shooting and a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. Afterward he said, “I’m just sticking to what I do. I haven’t changed anything really, the shot was just going down.”
Kentucky’s shooting was much-improved today after four consecutive games of throwing up bricks. The Cats hit 7-of-15 from the beyond the arc with Aaron Harrison adding three of his own to match Booker, plus the one from Ulis.
When this team’s hitting shots, they’re unbeatable.
4.) This is one of two Kentucky squads to win its first 11 games by double-digits.
The current Cats join the 1946-47 team — you remember them, right? — as the only two teams in history to start 11-0 with 11 double-digit victories. It’s also the first team to begin the season at 11-0 since John Wall and the boys hit 19-0 to start the 2009-10 season, Calipari’s first at Kentucky.
5.) Shots were fired in UK’s “Battle of the Blue Bloods” intro video.
Kentucky Wildcats TV produced a special intro for today’s game and it featured a nice shot at Carolina’s title count in the beginning. The crowd loved it, as did I.
6.) Kennedy Meeks has lost weight and thinks UK’s length isn’t normal.
First of all, good for Kennedy Meeks to shed all that weight he was packing around as a freshman. He’s been the butt of several jokes since arriving at UNC and he appears to have really worked hard to slim down. Good for Meeks, one of KSR’s best friends at the casino in the Bahamas back in August.
As for Meeks’ day, he played alright but was clearly bothered by Kentucky’s bigs. When asked to describe UK’s height and length in the postgame interviews, he told reporters, “You really can’t even describe it. It is not normal at all.”
“Kentucky Basketball: Not normal at all.” Print the shirts.
7.) North Carolina played well and still lost by 14.
Very rarely does a team play a good game and still find itself trailing by as many as 19, but that’s what UNC was working with today. The Heels cleared 50 percent shooting in the first half (that doesn’t happen on UK) and finished at 45 percent for the game, only to see a 14-point loss in the end.
Seth Davis likely had that in mind when he tweeted, “Okay folks start lining up to tell me why it’s ridiculous to say Kentucky can go undefeated. I’ve been saying it since the summer.”
Kentucky’s good, folks. Kentucky’s real good.
8.) Karl Towns is still getting used to physical play, but you will not go at him with that weak ass floater.
Get that out of here.
Towns struggled and looked a little overwhelmed by Carolina’s big bodies. He’s not used to having to work for every point and rebound like today. He’s still adjusting to this level, but don’t worry about Karl, says Cal: “Karl’s going to be fine. We all know how good he is. The game got a little physical and there was a little bit of fight there, but he’s going to be fine.”
9.) Trey Lyles’ midrange game is nice.
Lyles can knock down that 15-footer all day long and he seems to shoot it best from the most difficult spot, on the baseline. What Kentucky loses in Poythress’ big play ability, it makes up for in Lyles’ consistent shooting and offensive ability. He was 4-for-6 from the field today and deserves a green light on that jumper until it stops falling.
10.) The Cats “Roared for 22.”
Alex Poythress was visibly crushed having to watch his brothers from the sideline, but it didn’t keep him from leading the cheers once the game really got going. He began the game at a table behind the goal — where players would find him for a high-five every time they subbed out — but he moved over to the bench in the second half.
After the game he tweeted, “Everyone is handed adversity in life. No one’s journey is easy. It’s how they handle it that makes people unique. Proud of my brothers fought & how they all went to war today!”
This photo is perfection: