(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
It’s a pretty familiar pattern by now: slow starts followed by second half rallies. Kentucky finally put away Jarnell Stokes and the low down dirty snitches this afternoon by a final score of 74-66. Here are my eight notes:
Andrew Harrison had his best game yet
After a poor showing against Arkansas, Andrew Harrison responded with his best game yet, posting a career-high 26 points, 3 assists, and zero turnovers against the Vols. He was 7-13 from the field, including 2-3 from behind the arc and a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. Andrew has faced a lot of criticism lately, but after games like today, you can’t complain about Kentucky’s guard play. Cuonzo Martin said that Andrew’s adjustment of getting in the lane and making plays “got [Kentucky] over the hump” this afternoon. As Aaron Harrison tweeted after the game, “That’s the Andrew I know.” Calipari agreed, telling fans on the postgame radio show “That’s our point guard.” Dakari called this Andrew’s breakout game.
Aaron also played well, scoring 14 points and chipping in two threes of his own (even if he was the one to break UK’s perfect mark from the free throw line, something he joked his brother will never let him live down.). Together, the Harrison twins combined for 40 points, and shot a stellar 16-17 from the free throw line. If you’re keeping track, Andrew is the fourth UK player to score 25 points or more this year. Before the season, Cal predicted seven UK players would score 25 or more in a single game. Over halfway there…
The slow starts are getting really old
For the umpteenth game in a row, Kentucky stumbled out of the gate, letting Tennessee storm to an 11-5 lead. Doug Gottlieb tried to blame UK’s slow start on the early tip time, asking his colleagues during halftime “Who hasn’t woken up sloppy on a Saturday morning?”, but Kentucky fans know better. The Cats haven’t really come out on fire for any game this season, and although Cal seems hesitant to shake up the starting lineup, it may be time.
UK only missed one free throw
To say the Cats have struggled from the free throw line is an understatement. Kentucky’s free throw shooting woes were most glaring in the loss at Arkansas, where they were 26-40 from the line. What a difference four days makes. Kentucky was 23-24 from the line this afternoon for a whopping 95.8%. You can thank the Harrison Twins, Julius Randle, and Alex Poythress for that mark. They were the only players to go to the line today for the Cats.
After the game, Calipari pulled a fast one on reporters, telling them he had his players practice shooting free throws in a pool, which led to their improved performance. Cal makes jokes! (Because he’s Italian.)
Dakari had quality minutes
Jarnell Stokes and his size 20 shoes owned Kentucky in the paint in the first half. With Willie Cauley-Stein still in bed, Cal turned to Dakari Johnson in the second half. Dakari answered, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds. Dakari held Jarnell Stokes to two points while he was in, whereas Stokes went for 18 when guarded by Willie. “Willie didn’t play as well as he’d been playing and we went with Dakari, and he was terrific,” Cal said. Dakari said that he was just waiting for his turn:
“Yeah it is tough, but my mom told me to listen to the coaches and get better. I have been trying to do everything exactly as I am supposed to do it. I am happy for my teammates when they were playing well. I just waited my turn. It starts in practice and has carried over to the games.”
Willie was a non-factor
For the second game in a row, Willie Cauley-Stein was a non-factor. Willie was 0-5 with three rebounds in 19 minutes. Willie’s cold streak had fans so concerned during the game that many live bloggers called for Willie to dye his hair blond again. The only good thing about Willie’s bad game was that the Cats were able to win without him, thanks to a strong showing from Dakari Johnson. Cal said after the game that Willie is “owning his performance” and not making excuses for his poor play, so there’s that.
Random celebrity sighting of the day
NFL great Tony Dorsett was in the stands today, and posed for this picture with UK cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley.
It’s time for the players to “declutter” their lives
After the game, Cal went on a lengthy rant about his team needing to “eliminate the clutter” from their lives, and stop making excuses for poor play and listening to people around them who say they’re not getting enough playing time:
“See, there’s a difference, and what we try to teach our players here, sometimes we do it nicely, other times we don’t do it nicely, but they have to own their performance. I’m talking clutter. The clutter around them enables them. In other words, it wasn’t your fault; he likes the other guy more; if you had as many shots as so and so. You can’t â€‘â€‘ look, own your performance. Own it. You did it, you own it. Own your practice performance. Don’t make an excuse. Don’t alibi. Own it, and then change it if you want to change it. “
Cal brought up clutter again later on after he was asked if Dakari’s taking longer to develop than other players:
“Big players develop later, but again, all these guys, they’ve got to eliminate the clutter. You’ve got to quit â€‘â€‘ own your performance, come in, practice and work. And again, this is not a disrespectful thing, but you know how you get letters, and if there’s an addressed envelope, like I will never â€‘â€‘ my secretary doesn’t give me any unaddressed letters. They’re torn up, so I don’t even see them.”
Fail fast. Run blind. Eliminate the clutter.
A good rebounding team was outrebounded
Kentucky’s calling card this season has been their rebounding. Not so much today. The Cats were outrebounded by the Vols 39-24 this afternoon. A stat to make you grimace? In the first half, Jarnell Stokes had more rebounds than the entire Kentucky team. Cal said his guards didn’t rebound well, and in the second half, the Cats narrowed the margin on the boards, only grabbing two fewer rebounds than the Vols, as opposed to 13 fewer in the first half.
All in all, a good win for the Cats, who rallied to beat a very physical Tennessee team. Free throw shooting and guard play were two of the biggest questions about this team coming in, and after a near-perfect performance from the line and a career day from Andrew Harrison, you can’t complain about that.