After a crushingly disappointing three months of football and a similar start to the basketball season, I'm not sure there was a fan base in America that needed a win over an arch-rival any more than Louisville's, and I hope everyone enjoyed the day as much as possible.
A considerable amount of credit needs to be doled out to Rick Pitino and his staff for both their spot-on gameplan and for making all the necessary adjustments at halftime. Kentucky had no idea what to do against the match zone for the first ten minutes of the game, but when they started to figure things out Pitino adjusted accordingly. Likewise, U of L took advantage of UK's overzealous man pressure by utilizing more back-door cuts in the second half and screening to get shooters on the wings.
Big, big, time effort from Juan Palacios in his last opportunity to beat the Wildcats. This doesn't quite classify as a "Random Juan Game," but it was close. JDP is such a difficult player to figure out. One minute he looks like a lost 85-year-old with no ability to move laterally, and the next he's flying in from the free-throw line for a huge put-back.
My cursed shirt-giving friend put it best in an end of the game text message: "MVP: Goggles."
I said before the game that U of L should be more worried about limiting a second Kentucky scorer than Patrick Patterson, because the freshman was going to get his regardless. I was unaware at the time that the spirit of Dikembe Mutombo had manifested itself in the arms of our frontcourt.
Good Lord. If I were Billy Packer I'd make a "block party" joke here...and then hit myself in the balls with a pipe...and then retire.
Billy Packer sucks.
David Padgett's free-throw shooting has obviously been hindered by the fact that he can't bend his knees, but it's something that he adjusted to over the course of the game and something that he'll have corrected in a couple of weeks. How important it is for this team just to have his presence on the court cannot be understated. Having a level-headed leader who truly understands the game and can also put the ball in the basket when need be is a huge boon for any team, and we saw precisely what can happen when a player like that is taken away.
As far as the whole Padgett/Bradley/Williams/Crawford "scuffle" is concerned, I think the only reason it's being treated as anything close to a big deal is because it happened in the Louisville/Kentucky game. The only problem I had with the whole thing was that I didn't think Williams deserved a technical, and I don't think he gets one if the game is being played in Freedom Hall.
Bradley's foul was certainly intentional, but it wasn't malicious by any stretch of the imagination, and he did the right thing by immediately going over and apologizing to Padgett. Williams then came in and bumped shoulders with Bradley, a juvenile move, but one that's at least somewhat understandable given the circumstances surrounding the player who bore the brunt of the foul. Ramel shoves Williams, Williams shoves Ramel, both say things that will get you kicked out of class, Crawford shoves Williams, Williams shoves Crawford, Padgett forcefully removes Williams from situation, and that's that.
I thought the whole conversation between Lundquist and Packer over whether a punch was thrown was highly comical, but then I remembered how the pair had been involved in a notoriously brutal bare knuckle brawl (Ruby and Lily are their off-camera names), and decided the wise play would be to not doubt them it comes to such matters. Don't ever let anyone tell you Verne can't scrap.
I also loved the close-up of Padgett still holding T-Will back and making sure he was calm, and then hearing Terrence say "are YOU cool?" Williams said after the game that: "He's my center and I was just protecting him like a brother. I wanted to be a shield for my brother."
It's completely unrelated, but Williams also said this: "We watched the 'Gladiator' movie two nights ago and it was my movie. Rupp Arena was the Coliseum. We were trying to survive and we did. The main message was we had to stick together. If we stick together, we will survive. That's what we did. We survived."
I love it.
Speaking of Williams, aside from the five turnovers (two of which were completely inexcusable), this is precisely the type of effort this team needs him to give. Much of the fan base remains cool towards his game, and I suppose that's moderately understandable. T-Will's problem is that a bad outside shot speaks much, much louder than successfully cutting off dribble penetration or snatching a key rebound when your two big men are out of position. The fact is that this team cannot win without him, and I'll put all my Ninja Turtle action figures on that...but not the pizza-shooting turtle truck...never the pizza-shooting turtle truck.
There's zero doubt about it now: I love Preston Knowles. I love his energy on the bench, I love his energy on the floor, I love his insane dedication to defense, I love his basketball IQ, I love virtually everything about his game.
There was one play in particular that Knowles made which stood out to me. We were pressing and the second pass was made to Patterson in the right corner. Assuming that the big man was likely going to throw over the top, Knowles started to backpedal in order to ensure that no one would be open for an uncontested three. Then right when he saw Patterson put the ball on the floor for the first time, he attacked and ended up forcing a steal. It was so heady, and so effort-fueled that you couldn't help but hope that he'd get the ball back for an easy deuce.
The other thing about Preston is that he's one of four guys - Terrance Farley, Jerry Smith and David Padgett being the others - who you can always count on being into the game when they're on the bench. If you watched nothing but the sidelines the entire game then you'd never be able to tell if any of these guys had scored two or 20 points, and that's the way it should be.
Like most people I think a lot of the Billy Gillispie criticism is a bit premature, but if I were a Kentucky fan, his press conference last night would have angered the hell out of me. He started by saying "another whoopin'" with a smile, and then laughed again later on when saying "you have to have some ups to have an up and down season."
Gillispie was advertised as maniacally obsessive during UK's coaching search, so unless a whole lot of people were blatantly lying, we know that he's putting up a front when he makes light of the current state of things. Kentucky fans aren't used to losing, and so naturally they take it harder than most fan bases. I can't imagine that laughing about being thumped by Louisville in Rupp Arena sits well with any blue-clad fan in the Commonwealth, and nor should it. If Gillispie is as upset about losing as he ought to be, then he should go ahead and show it because I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of folks who would be far more sympathetic towards him if he would.
This was the third straight game where Derrick Caracter has given an exceptional effort, and that certainly bodes well for the remaining 17 Big East games on the schedule. There was only one instance where he could have been called out for being lazy, and that was when there was a loose ball right next to him and he watched as Palacios dove on the floor and ultimately knocked the ball out of bounds (this was when Packer made the baffling "Kentucky just wanted the ball more" remark). Padgett was getting ready to check in so this could have been a case of DC sulking, or one of him just being gassed. His play the rest of the game being Exhibit A, I'll go ahead and side with the latter.
His demeanor on the sidelines and during stoppages was also very encouraging. I'm still reticent to say that Caracter "is getting it" or "has gotten it," but he's doing exactly what this team needs him to do right now.
He's also come a considerable way as far as realizing when and when not to kick the ball out of the post goes. Every time Caracter catches the ball now he waits to feel the double team, and if he does then he immediately looks to the perimeter. If he pauses a moment and doesn't feel anyone coming from the weak side, then he knows it's his world and he can go ahead and do his thing. It sounds simple, but it's huge step forward for his game and this team.
When Jerry Smith was tackled and a jump ball was called late in the game, I threw a pen top. Not at anything, just straight down. It's progress.
We didn't get the usual "Rupp's Refs" treatment, but there were some bad calls going both ways that stood out, including:
--The charge call on Crawford, David was nowhere near in position, and that would have made his foul on Bradley moments later his third.
--The charge call on Smith. Should have been a three-point play and a 14-point lead, instead UK cut it to nine.
--The foul call on Coury in the first half when he blocked Smith clean.
--The last two foul calls on Caracter. Again, if his name is Tyler Hansbrough then he might have been whistled twice yesterday.
--Ramel taking eight steps before a foul call near the end of the game.
--Palacios not being called for palming right before he stroked a jumper from the top of the key.
--And then the aforementioned Jerry Smith tackle.
All things considered it wasn't that bad, especially since Jim "people totally pay to see me" Burr was putting on his little show.
Why does Mark Coury start? I said this summer that once Gillispie went with the lineup of Crawford, Bradley, Patterson, Meeks and Legion that this team would scare people. Well now you just have to substitute Jasper for Legion. Not only will it make the games infinitely more enjoyable to watch, but it at least gives your team a fighting chance, because it's 5-on-4 when Coury, Harris or Perry are in there.
If I'm a bubble or power team in the SEC then I am absolutely dreading playing Kentucky, because they're going to come into the game with a hideous resume, but they're also capable of beating any team in that league on a given night. They will lose to one of the worst four teams in the conference, and they will beat one of the best four teams in the conference, and don't be surprised if they win at least two games in Atlanta.
Umm Josh Chichester? I was stunned when he entered the game, and then twice as stunned when he morphed into Tracy McGrady and buried a turnaround jumper from the baseline. The kid's obviously not without talent, and talent's never a bad thing to have too much of.
A much better effort from Edgar Sosa, who entered the game and immediately made two really good passes. He made only one turnover and completely eliminated the drive into the lane, jump, figure part three out later move from his repertoire. The only thing I had a problem with was him taking an uncontested three from the corner when we had just gotten the ball down the floor and needed to run some clock late in the game. To his credit, he made the shot.
Despite all the attention this week, he was considerably better in this game than he was against Cincinnati, and that's obviously a good sign.
Turns out I was wrong about U of L needing a "breakout" game from Sosa in order to win, and a lot of that is due to the play of Andre McGee, who continues to do things I wasn't sure he was capable of. His defense remains one of the most pleasant surprises of the season, and despite Kentucky's ball pressure and his size disadvantage, he turned the ball over only once. He also made two huge plays off the dribble during the early second half run, one being a drive and a kickout to Palacios for an open three, and the other being an impressive take against Jasper where he finished with the left hand.
He did, however, take one step backwards in his quest to overcome his disadvantageous belief that he can shoot the ball through people a foot taller than him. Hopefully Patterson sending the ball over his head five times as fast as it went in will help him avoid a complete relapse. My only other concern with McGee's game is that he doesn't work hard enough to get to the ball against the press or when one of our bigs is trapped in the halfcourt. A lot of that is his size, but a point guard has to be able to get to the ball when a less capable ball-handler is being pressured.
Still, McGee's play continues to be overwhelmingly impressive, and I'm beginning to become convinced that he actually can hold his own in the Big East. I suppose we shall see.
Perhaps we should go ahead and stick with the red road jerseys for a while.
14-of-25 from inside the arc inside the second half. Good coaching + good execution + not having moderate shooters jacking up threes in transition = peace, love and wins.
All photos courtesy of the Courier-Journal