Photo via CoachCal.com.
So, a matter of days after I write a post about the Cats’ fantastic rebounding prowess, they get demolished on the boards at home by a feisty Tennessee team who showed them no respect inside. Or post-game. I guess that’s my fault, and I’m prepared to take the blame for that one. I just wanted to start today by apologizing after I realized the correlation. My bad, everyone.
Now, with that jinx out of the way, I’ll give another one, but KNOCK ON WOOD FIRST. (IKEA furniture has some wood in it, right?) With a difficult first half of the season under wraps, the Cats are ready to excel in the second half and cement their spot as a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament. We’ve talked about it in posts and on the radio, and it’s centered around a few things: confidence as a team, polish added to natural ability, and emergence of key players. From Andrew Harrison’s hope-inspiring two-game stretch, to Poythress’ “beast mode,” to the team’s ability to compete without Julius for the periods when he’s cramping (somebody get that kid a cranberry juice), we’re seeing real, substantial improvement.
And we’re not the only ones seeing it. ESPN has flagged Kentucky as one of their teams on the upswing through conference play, leading up to the post-season. Check out the UK-related highlights:
Low point: UK watched its nine-point lead collapse in the final 13 minutes against Baylor and its three Texas-native freshmen had their homecoming spoiled by the Bears 67-62 in Arlington. The Wildcats, like the Jayhawks, looked as if they would never mature.
Turning point: The Wildcats realized they were more than just Julius Randle when they beat Louisville 73-66, with Randle sidelined for most of the second half with cramps.
On point: Andrew Harrison, like all of the Kentucky freshmen not named Randle, is beginning to figure out the college game. (Randle, of course, already has an advanced degree in this game.) The Cats also have shown that they can play lockdown defense, especially when center Willie Cauley-Stein is on his game.
High point: Beating rival Louisville, which was ranked No. 6 when they met Dec. 28. It remains their only win over a ranked team this season.
The only concerning part is the note that Kentucky can play “lockdown defense, especially when center Willie Cauley-Stein is on his game.” After last night, we’re not always guaranteed a focused WCS, but hopefully the funk is a fluke, rather than a pattern.
So, did I jinx this one, too? Or are the Cats really looking good for the second half of the season?