As I type this, my television is currently on The Grammys, the yearly reminder that I am getting older and more and more detached from the music scene. This year I have at least heard of nearly all the artists (thanks to the bartender at Local Taco) and am familiar with virtually all the songs. I consider that a win in comparison to years past. With that said, there will always be things that baffle me, this year including the outfits worm by Pharrell and “Daft Punk” when they went on stage to get an award. While one looks like he is trying to prevent forest fires and the other two are just weird, they were a couple of the big winners on a night where we saw some good moments. I loved the Kendrick Lamar performance (including Taylor Swift dancing), the Kasey Musgraves girl is too cute, Metallica and the Piano Dude rocked the house, it was nice to see Chicago is still alive and I loved the reuniting of the Highwaymen (although I could do without Blake Shelton, but we have to have tradeoffs I guess). Another year down, another Grammys passed and I didn’t turn the television off with frustration. I consider that a win.
With that, below are four thoughts about the weekend in UK sports, followed by my favorite four pictures from the last two days. I will start with this one of the Highwaymen in their prime:
Kentucky With the Most Complete Game of the Year
It is too early to say that Kentucky has “turned the corner” and I think we learn a great deal more about the team this week (more on that later), but I do think that Kentucky’s 79-54 win over Georgia was a HUGE step in the right direction. For the first time all season, all of the major players on the team played well in one game and what followed was the most complete performance all year (barely edging out the UL game due to the bad 10 minute start in that one). Willie Cauley-Stein put on the headband and returned to his old form, blocking six shots and showcasing the energy level that had him starting the season with such promise. Julius Randle had his beastly moments, Alex Poythress was excellent finishing once again and Kentucky had one of its best nights from behind the three point line as well. But what was most encouraging to me was not any individual’s play but rather the sight of seeing this team start to connect as a unit. The ball moved as well as it had all year, with players passing up shots they could have taken to make Georgia’s defense work a bit harder and to get a better shot. Even more importantly, the defense was at a level that we just haven’t seen all year. The Cats had UGA to 54 points, but even more importantly, every shot was contested and UK gave up almost nothing easy around the basket. The Cats have seen their Defensive efficiency rating improve in the last two weeks from 48th nationally to 31st. That is markedly better and continuing on that trend could be the most important factor as to how the rest of the season will go. Either way, it was a great night for Kentucky on both ends and a game that gave a lot of encouragement on a very cold Saturday in Lexington.
Speaking of cold, this map for Tuesday morning is absolutely bone-chilling
Andrew Harrison is Finding The Groove
The one player I do feel has turned the corner is Andrew Harrison. Beginning with the second half of the Louisville game, I think Andrew Harrison has improved drastically and is very close to being the point guard that John Calipari needs to run this team. Sometimes Andrew showcases his talent by scoring (such as the second half versus UL and the Tennessee game) and sometimes he does it via distributing. But most importantly, he seems to be finally learning how to run the team and make sure that the offense flows with greater regularity. Calipari is unbelievably hard on his point guards and at times this year from my spot behind the bench, watching his interactions with Andrew has been difficult. He pulled Andrew often early and couldn’t believe the mistakes he was making. But the mistakes are fewer and farther between and Calipari clearly trusts him much more. We don’t see the sulking (at least not as often) as we did earlier in the year and the defense has improved a bit as well. Andrew is a victim of expectations…we (and especially me) thought he would come in immediately and be better. But he is starting to round into form at this point in the season and with each game he improves, Kentucky’s chances in March rise.
This picture came from a mashup on Twitter and is what Calipari and Willie Cauley-Stein would look like if mashed together…frightening
The Next Week Will Tell Me How Good this Team Is
I will write more about this tomorrow in detail, but for me, the next two games tell me what my expectations for March will be. LSU and Missouri are both decent teams (the 5th and 6th best in conference for me…I have Ole Miss 3 and Tennessee 4 as of today), but Kentucky is most certainly better than both teams. Both games are on the road in arenas that will be lively. Both of those teams need a victory over Kentucky to help improve their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Thus both games are tests…UK is better but they are on the road. Great teams win such games…good teams get in battles and can win or lose…decent teams lose them. The Arkansas game was somewhat freakish and had the Cats boxed out and won in Double Overtime, people would be talking about Kentucky as a legit national title contender. Now they get two more chances. If Kentucky wins both, I start to think that Kentucky can get to Dallas…win one and I will continue to reserve judgment and see if improvement continues to take. Lose both and it is hard for me to see this team having what is necessary to win it all (although they will still be able to make some noise in Tournament). I will judge where we are based on next two games…for me they are the games of the year.
Love this picture taken by KSR’s Dean Bowling of the UK team at the Jarrod Polson jersey retirement Friday at West Jessamine. Good example of this team building as a group
Matt Elam to Decide Thursday
I won’t go too much into this as we have a week to discuss. But Matt Elam picks his school Thursday at noon. He visited this weekend and it was quite the spectacle at the game as the seven current enrollees in the 2014 class got a great ovation from the UK crowd. The Elam recruitment has been an up and down affair but UK needs the kid. If he picks the Cats, the class will be Top 15 and it will be the cherry on top of the best group to ever be brought together at UK. Thursday could be a #Yahtzee to remember…should be quite the scene in Hardin County.
That is all for now…we will discuss all of this and more on the radio show tomorrow from 10-noon. Before we leave, a picture from the Royal Rumble tonight of Ben Roethlisberger, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. All look bizarre to me for different reasons. See you tomorrow: