A recurring theme seems to fit this Kentucky basketball team in SEC play-it wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. That was certainly true in Rupp Arena on Saturday as the Wildcats withstood a tremendous effort by Alabama to claim a 77-71 win. Give the Tide credit-they had a great shooting performance for the game including 5-of-7 from three but, more importantly, it seemed every time UK was about to make a run, Alabama came up with a big shot to snuff it out. It was great free throw shooting in the clutch that sealed the deal for the Cats, however, who didn't score a basket over the final 7 minutes but connected on 15-of-19 free throws over the same period to eke out a win.
Perhaps the most impressive stat of the game for Kentucky is that they had six players score in double figures. Yes, that's right, six! Leading the way was Terrence Jones with 15, Doron Lamb with 14, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 13, Darius Miller and Anthony Davis with 11 each, and Marquis Teague with 10. Davis also had 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 blocks while Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist had 6 boards each.
Two things impressed me the most-first is this team's toughness down the stretch. The Wildcats have been seriously pushed in all but one of their conference games, yet each time have found a way to win when the game was in doubt with less than five minutes to play. While blow outs are fun, the reality is the deeper a team gets in the NCAA tournament, the more likely the games are close, and despite the youth on this team, they still find a way to win. This team has consistently shown a mental toughness and a desire to win in the clutch, and those are intangibles that are hard to teach.
The other thing I take from Saturday's win is the Cats' ability to win when its stars (Davis and Kidd-Gilchrist) are struggling. Kidd-Gilchrist was limited to just 23 minutes on the day due to foul trouble and Davis had his worst shooting performance of the year (2-of-10), yet the rest of the team stepped up and found a way to get the job done. On a team loaded with blue chip prospects, UK seems to put winning ahead of individual accolades, and Saturday's box score is exhibit one. Rarely does a team have six players in double figures. Enough said.
Saturday's game also saw the return of some troubling issues. Jones had a horrendous first half, but rebounded nicely to have a strong second frame. This far into the season its a fair question to wonder if the reality of Terrence Jones is up and down. For the Cats to contend for the national title, however, they need to get more ups than downs from Jones, and right now its about 50-50.
Marquis Teague continues to frustrate. His 4-of-11 shooting is bad enough, but frankly he simply shoots too much. As the point guard, his primary focus needs to be on getting the team started in its offense, yet Teague looks to score far too often for my liking. Not only did he take 11 shots, but he had just one assist. 11 shots, 1 assist-that is not acceptable from your point guard. Teague should understand this by the time 20 games are played, but apparently isn't getting the message.
As I said at the top though, a win is a win. The Cats are now 19-1 overall and 5-0 in the SEC and the lone team unbeaten in league play. With Syracuse taking a pounding at Notre Dame on Saturday (they were never in that game) the Wildcats will assuredly assume the top spot in the polls this week. Trips to Georgia and LSU loom this week, and as always, UK will have a big target on their back, even more so since they will be ranked #1. It will take great efforts to escape the week unscathed.go back