This picture is of my family. We had some family events to take care of during the day, so we weren’t able to watch the game live (I typically can’t anyway because of work and kids, but on Saturday, I usually can). We were all pumped and decked out in our UK gear to give the Cats a little extra boost. I love being able to spend these times with my family. We love the Blue and I really enjoy having other people around to watch the game with who are as passionate about it as me. Living in Utah, it’s hard to find a kindred spirit who loves Big Blue Basketball. I’m usually resigned to just yelling “Go Big Blue” anytime I see someone walking down the street or in the mall who is wearing Kentucky gear. I always get a smile and fist pump. I love the Big Blue Nation.
I’ve been looking forward to this game for months. No different than anyone else in the commonwealth. And quite frankly, the media has been looking forward to this one since Cal was hired as well. We already discussed earlier in the week, the ridiculous number of press credentials issued for this game. Early on, I thought the game would live up to the anticipation. By that, I mean on the court. When Bledsoe got that foul eight seconds in and then kept getting more and more hot about it, I could tell that the intensity of this game was through the roof. Personally, it pumped me up to see how into this game all three of the starting freshmen were (Wall, Cousins and Beldsoe). Sometimes it takes a couple of seasons for newcomers to really get a grasp of how important these rivalry games are. In the end though, this game was messy, choppy, foul plagued and not particularly well played by either team. However, I was somewhat relieved to have the Blue come away with a hard fought 71-62 win over the filthy Cards in front of a record crowd at Rupp.
There were a couple of great individual performances, but to me the thing that stood out the most as I watched this game was the defensive intensity. Defensively the players were up in the Cardinal players’ faces and scrapped and clawed and dove for loose balls and fought for rebounds all night. I think it is this kind of defensive intensity that will allow UK to win, even when the shots aren’t falling, particularly the 3 pt. shot (I’ll discuss that a little later). At one point, Louisville was 1 for 19. Some of those were open misses, but most were challenged shots, and several times very late in the shot clock. For the game, the Cards shot 32% from the field and only 5 of 14 from the three.
Once again, Cousins made his presence felt very early on. First, in what I thought was sure to get him ejected, with the elbow that he threw while scrambling for a loose ball. Sitting there watching the replays over and over, I was sure that the refs were going to toss him after they went to the monitors. UK dodged a bullet when he was only assessed a technical foul. He was huge for the game with 18 and 18. Losing him less than a minute in would have been devastating. On a side note, I knew as soon as it went to half time, that Seth Davis would have something negative to say about UK. He immediately discussed the Cousins elbow with his co-host, saying he felt that Cousins should have been tossed. Thanks Seth, I expect nothing less from you. I have to say that I have really been impressed with Cousins’ intensity and effort the last several games. He comes hard from the beginning. I don’t think there is a player in the country that can handle him one on one. I am very anxious to see how he does against the shot blocking freak, Jarvis Varnado, when UK plays Mississippi State. On the other hand, Demarcus continues to really force 3-4 bad shots per game. Very seldom does he pass out of a double or triple team to an open teammate. This is probably where I think his game can improve the most, recognizing the double team when it comes, and it comes often, and then passing out of it. He’ll often get the ball back on a repost and then have a better shot. I’d like to see him work on this for the rest of the season.
Once again, John Wall took over in the clutch, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the second half, most of them after the 10 minute mark. Pitino even alluded to this in his post game comments, mentioning names such as Jordan and Kobe. High praise from a man who has coached against both. Wall seemed to struggle a little in the first half, but showed a lot of maturity by not trying to force it and just letting things come during the flow of the game. I remember squirming around in my seat as Louisville worked its way back, and then, actually took the lead 42-41, when my dad said “I just keep waiting for Wall to do something amazing to get the team going.” Almost on cue, he pump fakes the three from the right wing and then drives to the rim, hitting an acrobatic layup off the glass (also got fouled, but the refs didn’t call it.) He then followed that up with a jumper and then a couple of free throws. Six straight points and the Blue never looked back. Having a guy like Wall, knowing that when the team needs a big bucket, or someone to create something for a teammate, gives me a little peace of mind when things get dicey. He has done it time and time again this season. It’s things like that, that really separate the superstars from the stars. John Wall is a superstar. Absolutely amazing. When I went to Big Blue Madness this year, I was floored by his athleticism and quickness. But it seems like each game this year, he has done something special to make me more and more impressed with his game. I don’t know if I should be surprised anymore, but I am. It’s just ridiculous how good he is. I will be extremely saddened to see him go to the NBA next year, but I am enjoying every second I can of having him be part of UK basketball. All of you should enjoy this ride. It will be a long time before someone as special as him comes along again.
Patrick Patterson had another solid game. A little light on the boards with only 4, but hit his average in points with 17. He seemed to disappear for a while in the second half. Then he had a rather embarrassing moment on a breakaway, where he got stuffed by the rim on a dunk attempt. It looked like he simply didn’t get enough lift when he jumped. It was a tough play too, because the dunk would have put UK up by 14 and really put some distance between them and Louisville with only a few minutes to play. Instead, the Cards came down and hit a three to close it to 9 and really left things up in the air until only a minute or so was left. I have been extremely impressed with Patterson all season. He seems more explosive and quick than ever. He is incredibly consistent and never takes a play off. But like I said, a solid game, though not his best. I’d actually like to see Cal run a few more set plays for Patterson under the basket to keep him a little more involved in the offense. Patterson is so strong and explosive down there that most teams don’t have anyone who can handle him. Plus, when the team is struggling to get something going offensively, you can dump it to him on the right block and be almost guaranteed a bucket. I remember Cal saying that he would have Patrick down there in close games, late in the second half, but I haven’t really seen that happen this year. I’m still waiting. As dominant as Boogie can be, if we need a bucket and run a set play, I’d rather dump it to Patterson than Boogie right now, primarily because of Patrick’s experience and ability to read the situation a little better (see my comments about double teams and Cousins above).
Eric Bledsoe played another good game hitting some key buckets during the game and some clutch free throws down the stretch. He finished with 12 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 rebounds. Good all around. But he also had 4 turnovers. I continue to be perplexed by how often he seems to dribble into the lane and get stuck with no where to go. He often slips, gets tripped or caught in the air with no one to pass to. He seldom gets the foul call when there is contact, because he looks to be out of control. I think if he were to take one less dribble, he could pull up for the jumper, or pass before the defender gets right in his face. He has played very well, and this is really the main area of improvement I see for him so far, but it is so obvious sometimes. Personally, I think a lot of it is that he is still adjusting to playing off the ball, combined with not fully recovered from ankle injuries. Not a major concern but something to watch.
Some more general notes:
Daniel Orton only played 8 minutes due to foul trouble but came up huge with a couple of blocked shots and altered several more. When he is in the game, it is very difficult for the opposing team to get to the rim.
John Wall is fearless when attacking the rim. It really hit me today though how often he ends up on the floor after a drive to the hole. I love this about him. It is part of what makes him so good. But I hold my breath every time he gets knocked down. It only takes one really hard foul, for the entire season to be changed. Hopefully, he is wearing a lot of padding under his uniform, similar to what you see Dwayne Wade wear in the NBA.
3 pt. shooting failed the team in possibly the biggest game of the year so far, and definitely the most intense. I was surprised to see Louisville play so much zone with the way UK has shot from outside this year. However, they probably didn’t have much choice when you have 3 big guys like Orton, Cousins and Patterson who will just kill you inside. That being said, what was the biggest concern coming into the season – 3 pt. shooting – reared it’s ugly head today. Patterson hit one in the first half and Harris hit a huge one in the second, and that was it. 2 for 14. And most of those 12 misses weren’t really even close to going in. Combine that with the poor free throw shooting and you have a recipe for disaster. But, as I said earlier, you had incredible defensive intensity in this game, which in my opinion, was the key for the win.
Finally, a recurring concern for me this year has been how UK has gotten out to big early leads this year several times, but has let teams get back into the game. Three big ones come to mind, UNC, UCONN and tonight against Louisville. Calipari addressed this after the game, saying that what the team really lacked was experience. I agree. When you rely so heavily on four freshmen and a sophomore, with Patterson, you are going to have experience issues. That being said, they have been able to pull those wins out in big, high pressure games. But if this team wants to make a run at a National Championship, they are going to have to develop a little more of that killer instinct, to put teams away when they have the chance. Great, deep, veteran teams, like Kansas, Texas, Purdue, Villanova and West Virginia are not going to be able to beaten on pure talent. You have to play smart and with intensity the whole game. If this year’s Cats are going to put banner # 8 up in the rafters, those are the teams they are going to have to go through in March. The Blue have all the talent, tools and desire, now they just need to continue growing up. I think games like this help – heated rivalry games where you don’t play your best, but are still able to win. Here’s to keeping the streak going.
I’m excited for the second half of the season as we move into conference play. Look later this week for my breakdown of the team and the individual players at the midpoint of the season. I’ll probably spread it out over a few days, because it wil be too long for one post.
|DeMarcus Cousins, F||26||7-14||0-0||4-8||4||18||3||1||2||2||3||18|
|Patrick Patterson, F||38||7-10||1-1||2-5||2||4||1||1||0||1||1||17|
|Darius Miller, G||8||0-1||0-0||0-0||1||2||0||0||0||1||3||0|
|John Wall, G||36||5-10||0-3||7-12||0||1||4||2||0||5||3||17|
|Eric Bledsoe, G||30||3-8||0-3||6-6||2||2||4||2||0||4||2||12|
|Darnell Dodson, G||13||0-5||0-4||2-2||0||4||1||1||0||1||1||2|
|Ramon Harris, G-F||23||1-3||1-3||0-0||0||2||1||0||0||3||4||3|
|Perry Stevenson, F||10||1-1||0-0||0-0||1||2||0||0||1||0||0||2|
|Daniel Orton, F||8||0-0||0-0||0-1||0||0||0||1||2||1||4||0|
|DeAndre Liggins, G||8||0-0||0-0||0-0||1||1||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Samardo Samuels, F||25||3-9||0-0||3-5||6||9||2||1||1||3||4||9|
|Jared Swopshire, F||30||4-13||2-4||0-2||1||4||0||0||1||3||4||10|
|Jerry Smith, G||25||4-7||2-4||1-2||2||6||0||4||0||2||3||11|
|Edgar Sosa, G||34||3-11||0-4||5-6||1||2||2||0||0||6||2||11|
|Reginald Delk, G-F||28||2-3||1-2||4-4||0||4||1||1||0||0||4||9|
|Preston Knowles, G||17||1-8||0-2||5-5||0||1||0||2||0||0||3||7|
|Peyton Siva, G||5||0-1||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||0|
|Rakeem Buckles, F||10||0-2||0-0||0-0||0||3||0||0||0||2||4||0|
|Kyle Kuric, G||10||0-2||0-0||0-0||0||3||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|Terrence Jennings, F||15||2-3||0-0||1-2||2||4||0||0||3||1||3||5|
|Stephan Van Treese, F||1||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|