Sunday’s victory over Tennessee was a gutty, inspirational win for the Cats. They showed a lot of heart coming back in the 2nd half after the abomination they put on display in the first.
I have to also eat some Serious Crow!
I was talking smack about Brandon Knight in the first half through text messages to other UK fans. In fact, he had played his worst half of hoops the entire season. Turning the ball over, forcing shots, no floor administration, etc. But in the 2nd half he was a man on a mission. He made some huge threes to completely change the momentum of the game in the first three minutes of the 2nd half. Credit to Calipari for trying to get him some shots off curls. It's apparent UK plays better when they run plays to get Knight shots. Not optimal for your Point Guard, but it's obvious Brandon is a shooting guard playing out of position.
Today was also the first game all season UK collectively stepped up and hit big perimeter shots on the road in a hostile environment.
Miller made two absolutely monster shots with his drive as the shot clock ran down and then the three to put UK up by four late in the game. And then of course there was Harrellson in the right place at the right time as he has been so many times this season with clutch offensive rebounds and tap backs.
Liggins was absolutely huge in the first half. His defense and aggressive play around the rim, including two monster jams, kept UK from getting blown out. First half credit has to also go to Vargas as he contributed some huge offensive rebounds and three points from hustle and scrappy play.
Jones was very indecisive with the ball in the first half and it led to his poor shot selection/conversion for most of the game. He made some huge shots when it mattered through all out hustle and solid offensive rebounding in the second half. Wish he would concentrate on his free throws more.
All in all, an absolutely huge win for UK. It gives them a bye in the SEC tournament (facing winner of Ole Miss and South Carolina), which is exactly what a team using 6.5 players truly needs at this point in the year.
With the tough halfcourt defense employed by UT Sunday, we got a glimpse of what's likely to happen when UK gets to the 2nd round and beyond in the Big Dance. FOUL TROUBLE. Both Liggins and Lamb fouled out today, and others were in danger as well.
Kentucky's tournament success will depend on whether they get an opponent that tries to run and play up-tempo with them. Any tough physical grind-it-out halfcourt team will brutally expose the Cats.
Some points to wit:
- UK doesn't have a point guard. Brandon Knight is blazingly fast, a great open shooter and can finish well on drives to the basket. He has an absolutely poor handle (Goins gave him fits as have many stronger, older college guards who push him around a bit physically), and he struggles to create offense for his teammates especially when guarded closely in the halfcourt.
- Lamb is also handcuffed in the halfcourt set. He is a rhythm shooter and when he's locked down and forced to get shots from halfcourt play, he really struggles with his shot selection.
- UK's lack of halfcourt offensive execution overall is troubling. The Dribble Drive doesn't allow for many set plays and when defenders pinch at the post UK's offense really crashes.
- Miller's lack of assertiveness will be key to UK’s fortunes. It's clear now to anybody with two eyes that he is UK's best all around offensive player. He can take bigger guys off the dribble, post smaller 3/4s, and can drill the perimeter shot in gaps or off the bounce. Just wish he would become UK's "go to guy" psychologically.
If UK faces teams from the West Coast, ACC or perhaps an athletic Big East team that attempts to run with them, they could be lethal. Few teams will be able to match up with their team handling, speed and open court passing.
From a big picture perspective, anything is possible for UK now. Looking at their draw in the SEC Tournament, things couldn't have broken better. They play the winner of USC/Ole Miss on Friday and, if they can get past that, they would face the winner of Bama/UGA on Saturday. This means they would miss arguably the three best teams in the conference (UT, UF and Vandy) until the final. There is no question if Kentucky wins out and finishes 25-8, the Cats have a distinct possibility of becoming a #3 seed.
It's looking to be an incredibly exciting NCAA tournament ride over the next three weeks.
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