Although they received a much tougher test than anyone expected, the UK Wildcats withstood a stout challenge from Old Dominion this afternoon in a 62-52 win that ran the Cats' record to 4-0 on the year and claimed the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament championship. Give ODU credit-they played the Wildcats tough, but in reality most of Kentucky's struggles were of the self-inflicted variety. UK struggled offensively against the ODU zone defense, which, given how the Cats looked against ODU, I suspect the Cats will see a lot of the same type of defense this season. Marquis Teague struggled at the point for most of the day and had six turnovers, but he also had a couple of big baskets late in the game that helped Kentucky hold off Old Dominion.
Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the team with 13 points each while Anthony Davis chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds despite being limited by foul difficulties. Kidd-Gilchrist also had nine rebounds, but by far the biggest stat of the day was 20 turnovers by the Cats against the ODU zone. That the Wildcats were able to overcome careless play against a determined opponent is one thing, but coach Calipari has to get his players to take better care of the ball. Many of the miscues were of the careless, unforced variety which can become killers.
To me there were three major story lines that come out of this game. First, after getting a double digit lead for the first time in the game with about six minutes to play, Old Dominion hit a couple of big threes to cut the UK lead to two. I don't remember if it was a TV timeout or one called by UK, but either way, after the time out, UK responded to the ODU charge and took control of the game. While they may have struggled for much of the game, it says a lot about your team's competitive fire to respond that way, especially as young as the Wildcats are.
Second, Darius Miller was huge and has emerged as perhaps the most important bench player the Wildcats have. Miller tied for the team lead with 13 points, but more impressive was when they were scored. When UK was struggling the most, John Calipari inserted Miller and almost immediately positive things started to happen for the Cats. It has to be a tough adjustment to go from starting on last year's Final Four team to coming off the bench this season, but Miller has shown to be a really important piece of the Wildcat puzzle thus far.
Finally, as I said after the Kansas game, the Wildcats look like freshman, albeit very talented ones, and today's game is another example of how on most nights, that talent alone will be enough to win ball games. This was an ugly, ugly win, no doubt about it, but UK isn't going to win by 30 every night out. Part of the maturation process of this team is to learn to gut out wins when things aren't going their way, and UK has passed that test twice-on neutral courts! These are the kind of wins that prepare UK for tough games in Starkville and Nashville in February. So relax-it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, and yes, the Cats are experiencing some growing pains, but they are winning nonetheless. I expect this team to gel and be a very tough out when it comes to tournament time.
One other note, and this one not a positive one. I've noticed a disturbing trend early this season with the Wildcats and what is best described as an attitude problem. Certain players (Jones for one) seem to carry a chip on their shoulder and look for confrontation instead of walk away. Don't get me wrong-I want the team to play with an edge, yet I also want to see class and the game played the way its supposed to be played. I agree that UK takes everyone's best shot, and sometimes they take cheap shots from other teams, yet all too often it seems UK initiates the confrontation or brings it on with the silly "three goggles" etc. that appear innocent but aren't. I'd like to see Calipari tighten the reins just a bit on this sort of activity, but after his first two years, I don't see it happening. While UK enjoys its reputation among the elite of college basketball, it doesn't want to get a reputation for being punks and thugs.go back