photo via Alex Poythress Instagram
If you consider a weekend like most college students do (aka starting on Thursday night), then this past weekend started about as awful as any we can remember…just before midnight finding out that Alex Poythress had torn his ACL. It seemed unnecessarily cruel…a Junior who has done everything right, great student, great teammate and all around great kid, works hard and is starting for a team with the potential to be historically great…and then by himself in practice of all places, tears his ACL to miss the season. It is a painful reminder that basketball, like life, often times simply isn’t fair. The good don’t always get rewarded and those that deserve success sometimes face the greatest adversity. Friday was a day of Big Blue Nation Depression as we all tried to come to grips with an injury that hurt many more than the individual who sustained it.
But then on Saturday morning, basketball was back. If there was any positive in playing a team like UNC immediately after the Poythress injury, it was that it required the team to focus and collectively rally the troops. Kentucky came ready to play and with a Rupp Arena crowd that was at the top of its game behind them, the Cats put forth another masterful performance against a solid opponent. It was one of those great days in Rupp and put the Cats one more step towards a season to remember. As we head towards Finals Week, five quick notes from the last 72 hours:
1. Best Offensive Performance of the Season:
What we saw on Saturday was not UK on top of its game defensively or on the glass. The Cats gave up too many free shots (the Heels did shoot 45%), too many offensive rebounds (18!) and kept UNC around by forgetting about Marcus Paige’s moments of glory. However that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that offensively UK came to play. They once again shared the ball amazingly well, 19 Assists on 27 baskets. UK’s best scorers (Aaron, Booker and Willie) all put up big numbers and other guys (like Marcus Lee and Trey Lyles) did their part to balance the attack. And oh yeah…three pointers fell as well. Seven of them went through the nylon, one more than they had made in the past three games combined. It isn’t that Kentucky has to hit threes to win games…the Cats I firmly believe can win the title even if they aren’t even an average three point shooting team. But if Aaron/Booker/Ulis/Andrew, etc are hitting threes, the Cats are simply unstoppable. The balance that attack can give is impossible to defend and UK will steamroll teams. The most amazing thing about the game? Kentucky beat a Top 25 opponent, with five McDonald’s All Americans on their roster by a comfortable 14 points and the future Top Three NBA Draft Pick Karl-Anthony Towns DID NOT EVEN ATTEMPT A SHOT. This team at times is silly.
2. Poythress on the Sideline
I stood the entire game in my usual sideline reporting spot, which happened to be right next to where Alex Poythress was placed during the game. As many tried to give him his space (it is hard to know what to say in such situations), you couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid as he had such a sad expression on his face. The UK team however lifted him up early as Willie Cauley-Stein (quickly becoming the emotional leader of this group) started a trend of not only slapping all his teammates hands on the bench when he came out, but also walking and hitting Alex’s as well. The other Cats followed suit and at the start of the second half, Alex moved from the table seat on the sideline to back on the bench with his teammates. It was a symbolic move, an affirmation that yes he is still on the team and won’t become a ghost for the rest of the season. His team hugged him when he came over and it was once again confirmed that with this group, the brotherhood is as strong as with any I have seen.
3. Stupid, Unnecessary Debates Should End
Look, I get it. Sports is in part about debates. I host a daily sports radio show that if it included no debates (or jokes about Ryan Lemond) would potentially just be 2 hours of silence. But some debates are unnecessary and counterproductive and the tendency of some fans (and some is the key word…more than most would like to admit but less than it seems like on the internet/Twitter) to want to pit the two sets of guards against each other is ridiculous. The question of who is better, the Harrison Twins or Booker/Ulis is a debate that fans do in part because there is nothing else to complain about. When you have a potentially historically great team, some need something to complain about. And good games by the two amazingly talented Freshman, such as against UNC, lead a certain group to proclaim “THEY NEED TO START!” as if starting makes any difference in this Platoon-type year. Look, there is no scenario where John Calipari doesn’t play the Twins…they helped take a team to the Championship Game and he believes in them. One of them hit three of the most clutch shots in the history of this program…and oh yeah, they are pretty good. But there also isn’t a scenario that Calipari doesn’t play his talented Freshmen, knowing how much they bring on the offensive end and what a tenacious defender/distributor Tyler Ulis can be as well. Just chill out…the reason this team is so good (among others) is because BOTH SETS of players are on it. They bring different skill sets…one twosome is physical, the other quick. One set grinds it out and likes to get to the line, the other quickens the pace and bombs from outside. The two sets TOGETHER make this team so hard to stop. End the needless debate about them and embrace what you have…a team that has yet to play one game with a single digit margin over its opponent.
4. Recruiting Weekend Goes Well for Football
We won’t know the final results for a few weeks but the big visit weekend at UK seems to have gone well. The two biggest targets, Damien Harris and Marcus Lewis both tweeted that the trip was great and there were lots of good vibes all around the program from those involved. Harris once again spent time in the Erruption Zone during the game, Lewis soaked up the UK fans’ energy and all the recruits saw Bud Dupree and Austin McGinnis get a standing ovation for being First Team All SEC. Throw in a HUGE commitment from 2016 top Center Drake Jackson (who is as excited to be a Cat as any recruit I can remember) and it was a big weekend for Stoops Troops. Now the finishing drive has to be pushed into gear…get Harris on January 9th and forge ahead to Signing Day. I like UK’s chances.
5. Offensive Coordinator News
I feel confident in saying that UK has their top choice for the Offensive Coordinator job and that an offer has been made. Whether that offer will be/has been accepted or when it will be announced is unclear to me. But I do think the chance for Lincoln Riley to be the next OC is on the table. Whether he accepts it remains to be seen.
With that little nugget, lets end the night and see you folks tomorrow for the radio show where we will talk about the UNC win, the OC chatter and our dinner with Rick Pitino.