Wow. Just wow. At Kentucky, we don't expect to have barnburners in the second game of the year, even though we have sufferd through them in each of the last three years. I know many UK fans were seeing visions of VMI and Gardner-Webb dance in their heads. But not this time.
First of all, I have no words for the Miami RedHawks. They were just incredible. 15-26 from three point range is some of the best perimeter shooting I have ever heard of, and Nick Winbush's 80% on 10 shots is simply breathtaking. Superlatives fail me. At the end of the day, it was only by dint of the most furious of all-out efforts that UK was able to prevail, by the narrowest of margins. Folks, coming in to Rupp Arena, whether you are Miami of Ohio or North Carolina, and barely missing by two points is a moral victory, if there really is such a thing.
It would be easy for me to find fault with the Wildcats, as there is plenty of fault to go around. But we'll get to that later. First, I want to remark on the absolute playoff atmosphere in Rupp Arena. Never in recent memory have I seen a home crowd so into the basketball game, so animated, so determined to push the Wildcats over the top. And that's what happened, I think. I think the crowd was just enough to make the difference. Remarkable.
I have to admit a certain ... Zen feeling about this game. Unlike many games in the recent past, I never thought we would lose, even at the very last. I cannot say that about the Wildcat teams for the last four years before now. I was always pessimistic, for whatever reason. But whatever the cause, I was never upset too much, and I kept my composure remarkably well during the whole game. What does that mean? I have no idea.
More after the jump.
I think ... no, I am absolutely positive that John Calipari learned far more than the team did tonight. He not only learned about the team, but about himself. Calipari has approached this season a bit like an emperor who has the favor of the people -- a man who not only expects to succeed, but darn well knows he will.
Oh, Coach Cal has been humble in person, and dutifully warned us that the team will look ugly at first, but all that pretense has not been able to hide the mien of an emperor. I'd be willing to bet he doesn't feel much like an emperor right now.
But all that I can say about the coach goes double for the team. They strode onto the floor like kings, claiming a cachet of greatness that they have yet to earn, despite the accolades heaped on them by the fans and media. I'd be willing to wager a significant amount that a bunch of AAU supermen will now better understand that college basketball will be different, even at their skill level.
Here are a few observations:
- DeMarcus left the building in the second half, and Bad Cuz showed up. Just in time.
- John Wall has a lot to learn about when to try to beat a man off the dribble, and what it means to do so.
- Patrick Patterson is really good, even suffering from apparent dehydration.
- Both Wall and Bledsoe have to learn to be stronger with the basketball.
- I don't often complain about the officiating, but tonight, it was abysmal.
- The RedHawks were not intimidated by Kentucky. That's a problem, don't you think? Clearly, the last four years will not disappear quickly, nor all at once.
- Kentucky's defense was much better in the second half than the first, but it will not excite Coach Cal. Nor should it.
- John Wall made the game winner in his first game. I can't decide whether that is a good omen, or a bad one.
- Daniel Orton played great until the head butt. I liked the fact he demanded to return.
- UK had better improve their free throw shooting, and Calipari had better take that seriously. It cost him a national championship, and nearly cost us the game.
- Miami's transition defense was the best I have seen in years. Years. It was almost perfect.
- 15 turnovers is okay. It didn't seem okay, because so many were live, but that number is fine.
- UK had only 11 assists. I think that's a problem.
- You'd think after being burned by the same guy four or five times, UK would have found him. In this game, you'd be wrong.
- What took Calipari so long to get Dodson into the game? I thought he was going to do a Gillispie.
- Speaking of Dodson, what a lift he was!
- John Wall had as many turnovers as he had assists.
- UK shot 54% from 3-point range and almost lost.
- UK had several incredible defensive stands tonight, but against better teams, they would not have gone as well.
All in all, it was an amazing win against a team that should have beaten us. Miami was one of the hottest teams from outside I have ever seen, and as the game wore on, many of those shots were not clean looks -- they just made them. At this precise moment, I am still a bit in shock that Kentucky actually managed to come out on top. UK was completely outplayed in the first half, and just stayed even in the second. How did we win? Determination and Rupp Arena would be my guess, as well as a 22-14 foul advantage and 37-25 rebound advantage.
Hopefully, it gets better from here.