The Kentucky Wildcats' 72-70 victory over the Miami (OH) Redhawks might not have been the bunny rabbit victory the fans clad in blue expected, but the play of freshmen point guard John Wall and power forward DeMarcus Cousins illuminated brightly why the two future NBA stars were so hotly courted by the nations basketball elite. Sure, both players made mistakes -- Wall had 5 turnovers and a missed free throw late in the game, and Cousins was a no-show in the first half -- but when it came time for Kentucky to assert its second half authority, Wall and Cousins were the leaders of the 'Cat pack.
Although UK allowed an embarrassing 57.7% of Redhawk three-pointers (15-26) to tickle the twine, as well as making only 58.3% of their own charity attempts (14-24), the 'Cats' play over the final 11:00 minutes of the second half propelled a sure and shocking loss into the win it should have been.
Beginning at the 11:16 mark of the second half (with UK down 50-46) the dynamic duo of Wall and Cousins grabbed their lunch pails and Campbell's Chunky, and went to work:
- 11:16 -- Cousins snags an offensive rebound off a Darius Miller missed three-pointer.
- 11:13 -- Cousins made basket off the Miller miss.
- 8:39 -- Cousins missed jumper.
- 8:37 -- Cousins offensive rebound, and missed tip-in -- Patrick Patterson rebounded Cousins' second miss and put-back his own offensive rebound for two points.
- 8:02 -- Wall flushes the pill on a breakaway dunk.
- 7:33 -- Cousins misses a jumper.
- 7:31 -- Cousins offensive rebounds his own miss.
- 7:29 -- Cousins misses a tip-in.
- 7:26 -- Cousins grabs another offensive rebound (off his own miss).
- 7:24 -- Cousins makes a tip-in.
- 7:07 -- Wall assists on Miller's three-pointer.
- 6:31 -- Cousins misses a jumper.
- 6:30 -- Cousins rebounds his own miss.
- 6:29 -- Cousins makes his put-back.
- 5:28 -- Cousins grabs a defensive rebound.
- 5:13 -- Wall grabs a defensive rebound.
- 2:48 -- Wall steals the ball.
- 1:47 -- Cousins corrals a defensive rebound.
- 1:29 -- Wall assists on a Cousins made shot.
- 1:01 -- Cousins steals the ball.
- :32 -- Cousins grabs a defensive rebound.
- :03 -- Wall shoots and makes the game-winner.
To recap -- In the final 11:16 of the half that matters the most, Cousins grabbed eight of his ten rebounds, with five of those boards being the offensive variety. He also scored eight of his 10 points, and had one steal. Wall scored five points, including the clutch game-winner, and had two assists to go along with one steal.
Speaking of clutch game-winners -- When was the last time a freshman, in his first collegiate game, made the game-winning shot in the waning seconds? I'm sure it has happened at some point in the history of college basketball, but that doesn't diminish the cold-blooded, steely-eyed determination displayed by Wall on his first game-winning attempt. Even more impressive is the fact that Wall, instead of driving for a closer look and possibly having his shot blocked, chose instead to pull-up and take the 12-footer will all the coolness of the Fonz himself. Impressive, indeed, and perhaps a small glimpse into the heart and mind of UK's ballyhooed freshman.
Setting-up Wall's heroics was Cousins, whose motor evidently needs to warm-up a bit before hitting on all 12-cylinders. But, after he opted to engage, the big fella from Alabama showed off not only his athleticism and hunger for the ball, but more importantly, his will to win ... which is something that can't be taught.
And although Cousins missed six shots in the final 8:39, he grabbed the offensive rebound on four of those misses, resulting in four points. Patrick Patterson snagged another of Cousins' errant shots and made his put-back. So, out of Cousins' six misses, six points were scored. Efficient misses?
What did UK fans learn from Monday night's shockingly close contest? Hopefully, the lesson learned was what John Calipari has been preaching for several months now -- This team is going to take some time to gel, and learn how to play with one another. The athleticism and talent is there for all to see, but a bit of maturity is required to complete the process of growth needed to compete at the highest level ... and defending the hot-handed opponent would also be of great benefit to the 'Cats' cause.
But fret not Wildcat Nation, this team will improve and find its way. Along the path to potential greatness there will be stumbles, though, quite possibly Thursday night against a very good Sam Houston State team, or maybe Rider will be the bitter pill forced down UK's throat. Not unlike the rat who snitched on his mobster cohorts, we know the inevitable is coming, we just don't know when. Ironically enough, Calipari is fond of saying, if forced to choose, he'd take talent over experience every time, but for the first few months of this season, the talent he is blessed with will be challenged and challenged regularly by more experienced, yet less talented squads, and a Big Blue loss or two will surely be the result.
So, embrace the growth process (afterall, one really doesn't really have a choice in the matter), but it won't come without a price. And if we're "all in" with this team, enjoying the wins, and enduring the unexpected losses are part and parcel of watching a young, talented team blossom into the breathtaking rose it is destined to become.
A very large happy birthday to my father, Coleman, who recently turned 65. My dad gave me my love of all things UK ... for which one might want to curse him, or thank him :)
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!