It wasn’t pretty, but it may have been exactly what the Cats needed. Let’s break down UK’s 58-38 win over Providence and get back to watching Randall Cobb and the Packers beat the Patriots…
Providence had the formula for an upset
Hand it to the Friars; they came in with an excellent game plan to beat the Cats and for a while, it worked. Providence slowed the game down to a crawl in the first half, controlling the tempo and confusing Kentucky with a 2-3 zone. Unfortunately for the Cats, the shots weren’t falling early and Providence went on a 12-8 run to take the lead at the 11-minute mark. Most concerning? They were outrebounding Kentucky 7-2. “We’ve gotta play with more energy to start the game,” Cal said. UK’s slow starts are a troubling pattern that come along with being the number one team in the country; each game, the other team will come in with dreams of being the giant killer. Fortunately, each time the Cats have stumbled out of the gate, the defense has been there to save the day.
…Tyler Ulis was the spark
Ulis was the king of the waterbugs today, coming in with four minutes left in the first half and totally changing the game. In under a minute, Ulis blocked a three, the first block of his career, scored on the opposite end, and forced a five-second violation. Ulis finished with six points off 3-6 shooting, three rebounds, three steals, one assist, and of course, that one, rare block.
After the game, Calipari said Ulis was the difference maker. “I’ve had three Chicago guys do what Tyler Ulis did today, which is change the game,” Cal said. The other two? Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose. “(He) came in with unbelievable energy and bothered their point guard. Took him out of all the stuff they wanted to run. They couldn’t get in a rhythm.” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said Ulis was the key to the Cats’ success. “I thought the biggest key today was Ulis. He was very disruptive,” Cooley said. “I thought his ball pressure, when they made their run, was the key to this entire game.”
From there, the defense went to work
After allowing Providence to shoot 47% in the first half, Kentucky held the Friars to 16% from the field in the second, outscoring them 32-16. Ulis’ ball pressure was contagious. Kentucky won the turnover battle 18-7 and scored 21 points off the Friars’ miscues. In what is becoming a pattern, around the 8-minute mark in the second half, Providence was done. The tanks were over the hill and the Friars retreated. “I loved our execution at the end again. We made the right plays. We can finish off a game. We’ve proven that,” Cal said. “Now we gotta get a little more comfortable and confident against the zone.”
Willie Cauley-Stein showed why he’s one of a kind
For the second year in a row, Willie Cauley-Stein had himself a game against the Friars. Last year, Willie almost had a triple double, and while his numbers weren’t quite as lavish this go-around, Willie was still extremely impressive, scoring 11 points off 4-7 shooting and grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes. Those stats don’t even begin to cover the difference he made on defense. “Willie was unbelievable defensively,” Cal said afterwards, noting how Willie slowed down LaDontae Henton, holding Providence’s star to three points. “It was a tough matchup for them, because a guy guarding him was going to be about six-six, six-seven, and he’s about seven-foot one.”
I think Providence head coach Ed Cooley’s quotes about Willie were my favorite. “I think they’ve got one of the best defensive players I’ve seen in a long time in Cauley-Stein. He’s got quick feet, he’s long, he jumps over mountains,” Cooley said. “Man, he’s just like a one-man wrecking crew.”
Willie had a pretty great quote himself when asked what he’d do if he had to face a defender like himself: “Good thing I’m one of a kind.”
Alex is getting back to roaring form
After the game, Alex Poythress confirmed he missed two games because of tonsillitis. He’s slowly but surely getting back to roaring form, and today, he starred in a 9-0 run to blow the game open for the Cats in the second half, extending the lead to 44-29. That got him some love from John Calipari:
Bring on the Longhorns
Providence had the perfect game plan, but like we’ve seen all season, Kentucky wore them out. Calipari calls UK’s depth tanks on a hill; today, Alex Poythress called it waves. “We come at you in waves. We just keep on coming at you. We got fresh legs, and we just keep on attacking you,” Poythress said. “We’re so big, so long, so active. We can switch. We can do anything we really need to do on defense.”
Providence head coach Ed Cooley summed it up best. “If you would’ve told me yesterday that we’d come in here and hold this team to 58 points, I’d have told you we won the game,” Cooley said. Kentucky’s offense is still a work in progress, especially against the zone, but their defense and depth is just too much for most teams. After a row of cupcakes, and oh yeah, Kansas, Providence’s challenge was the perfect primer for Texas and a stretch of heavyweight games. “They’re beasts. Their inside game is awesome in Texas, so this is all good. These kind of games are good for us.” Cal said. “It’s how everybody’s going to play us. No one is going to surrender, especially in the first half. They’re coming at us.”
Bring it on.