What happened to cute, nerdy Columbia? The Ivy Leaguers were supposed to show up in their peacoats and leather satchels and look around Rupp Arena with wide eyes before retreating to the locker room in fear. That didn’t happen. Even without a vendetta, the nerds were out for revenge tonight, giving the Cats way more trouble than we anticipated. Kentucky eventually won 56-46, but it was far from the easy rout we had in mind. What was the Cats’ deal tonight? Let’s break it down.
Columbia was no cupcake
I’ll take the blame, I thought they were. Hell, I even used a cupcake graphic on the site earlier today; however, I don’t think anyone expected the Lions to sprint out to an 11-0 start. And I really don’t think many people expected Columbia to stick around for most of the game. The Lions clearly weren’t scared by the stage and 23,000+ in Rupp tonight; instead of spooking at the spotlight, they jumped in and sang a few show tunes.
We knew heading into game that Columbia was going to try to slow the game down, and they pretty much controlled the tempo in the first half. Most teams attack Kentucky from the outside, and Columbia certainly did that, making 8 of 25 threes, which Cal said surprised him. “The tape I watched, they hadn’t been great threeâ€‘point shooting team. And they started the game like they were on fire. It was 11â€‘0 to start the game,” Cal said.
What set Columbia apart from most of UK’s foes so far was their fearlessness in the post. Whereas most teams wet their pants when the look into the lane at UK’s bigs, Columbia wasn’t scared to get in there and fight for points and rebounds. “But here’s the other thing that kind of surprised me: They, they fought us in the post. And they fought more than our guys fought,” Cal said. “They kept us away from offensive rebounds that we could get, except for Trey, everyone else just accepted being pushed and that was it.”
Where was the energy?
UK has rarely started a game well this season. That trend was magnified tonight when UK let Columbia jump out to an 11-0 start. Caliapari seemed disgusted with his team’s lack of energy, which he said the platoon system has masked all season. “I was disappointed in the energy level,” Cal said. “That’s what the platoons have done for us. It hides all that, because instead of getting seven minutes of that, you get two.” During his radio show, Cal said he saw “signs of last year” on the floor tonight, and I’m pretty sure he meant the regular season version and not the postseason version.
Player of the game: Trey Lyles
After what I’m sure was an entertaining halftime pep talk, Kentucky was much more energetic to start the second half. What was the difference? According to Cal, Trey Lyles. “The reason I started him at half: motor. Him, he’s going. He’s starting,” Cal said of Trey, who finished with 7 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and enough hustle to fuel Calipari’s Vespa. “I thought Trey was outstanding today…He was REALLY good. Great motor, great motor.”
Other Cats picked up on Trey’s lead, including Willie Cauley-Stein, Derek Willis, and Marcus Lee. “In the second half, I thought they fought,” Cal said.
Postgame show player of the game: Derek Willis
That roar you heard across the Bluegrass in the second half was KSR postgame callers rejoicing; with Devin Booker out, it was finally Derek Willis’ time to shine. Derek has balked at opportunities at times this season, which Calipari criticized him for before the game, but today, he was ready. Derek had five points, including a huge three to push the lead to a comfortable margin with four minutes left. “What Derek did was show me ‘don’t be afraid to play me.’ Now I’m not. I’m not afraid to play him,” Cal said. “Derek was really good, defensively active, played with confidence. I thought Derek was outstanding.”
What spurred Derek on tonight? He told reporters he pretends every team is “trying to take your job or your money or your girlfriend.”
About the shooting…
Ten games in, it is not a fluke: the Cats can’t hit the broad side of a barn right now. On a team with so many great shooters and so many missed shots, what’s the problem? Calipari said Kentucky’s defense is too good at bailing the offense out. “That’s what’s kind of crazy about this. There’s no pressure for you to make them. It just makes the game a little easier on the rest of us if you do,” Cal said. He did acknowledge UK’s shooting problems as of late, joking that at the rate they’re missing shots, they need to be practicing on the blue courts and not in the Joe Craft Center; however, he’s still not worried. “If we go 10 of 17 against a team from the three, you know what that score is going to be. It’s going to be really ugly.” Also, he asked fans to please not send him any letters about the shooting woes. He knows. He’s got this.
Despite leading the team in scoring with 14 tonight, Aaron told reporters this was the game that showed him he needs to get back in the gym for more practice. “Tonight was it,” Aaron said. Leave the light on for him tonight, boys.
If Tyler and Devin don’t practice tomorrow, they’re not playing on Saturday
Of course, part of UK’s lackluster performance tonight may be due to the absence of Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. KSR is hearing that Ulis has a small limp and Booker has a shoulder issue, with Ulis the more likely of the two to be ready in time for the game. Calipari said that if Tyler and Devin don’t practice tomorrow, they won’t play against the Tarheels on Saturday.
Send all of your healing vibes to the Joe Craft Center ASAP.
Keep calm and crush the Heels
If UK plays like this against UNC, UCLA, or Louisville, then let’s start getting worried; however, I don’t see that happening. Calipari parrot says that these games are everybody’s Super Bowl, and yes, sometimes the players have trouble getting as hyped up for teams like Columbia as they do for teams like Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, etc. “I’m happy with my team and I’m happy this happened today. It shows us,” Cal said, tweeting later “Not one of our better efforts. Reverted a little bit but don’t overanalyze, BBN.”
Now, let’s go crush the Heels.