For the first time all season, I had my doubts about a game that the Wildcats were behind in. But my fears proved groundless.
Congratulations to the Stanford Cardinal for an outstanding game. The Cardinal executed their game plan brilliantly, and but for the liquid helium in John Wall's veins, would likely have had them some Wildcat fricassee for an early Thanksgiving dinner. But alas for the Cardinal, they missed two critical free throws at crunch time that cost them a major upset. But if there is such a thing as a moral victory, this surely was one for Johnny Dawkins' young squad.
For Kentucky, this bullet-dodging is becoming a habit. One of these days, the bullet is going to connect. But not today.
I distinctly recall John Calipari telling all of us that it would be this way. He said it more than once. None of us really believed it, but this game made a believer out of me.
In the end, there were two things that made this win possible -- the crazy self-confidence of these young, talented players, and the fact that these guys do not get upset when the chips are down -- they get focused. That's something Coach Cal can build on.
More after the jump.
Here are my observations for this game:
- Did you notice that Coach Cal scrapped the dribble-drive motion in favor of a low and high-low post-up game? That is the sign of a confident coach who doesn't feel like he has to win or lose by his innovation. Calipari plays to win, and when he saw that Stanford could not handle UK's post players, they got lots and lots of touches.
- Great game by Ramon Harris. If he could only make open shots, he would be incredible. As it is, he really sets the tone for effort and selfless play.
- What can I say about John Wall? He isn't just a cool customer, he is an infectious personality and a peerless athlete. His free throws to tie the game would have been hard for a senior, yet he made them as though he were shooting alone in the gym.
- Daniel Orton was not that effective tonight. He just looked a step slow.
- I took DeMarcus Cousins' name in vain several times tonight. He really needs work, and not just on his free-throw shot. He nearly cost us the game with a foolish three and an equally foolish charge. But he will get better, and he's already pretty good most of the time -- as he was for most of the game tonight.
- I was really impressed with Eric Bledsoe's effort on defense tonight. He really worked hard, and hit an, "Oh, no, don't ... Yess!" shot at the end that was huge.
- Patrick Patterson was unstoppable. I imagine if we had him for more of the first half, this game would likely not have been as difficult.
- A cameo for Darnell Dodson, but he was not effective. At least we know he is still alive.
- I'm putting out a missing person's report on DeAndre Liggins. I think he has been kidnapped by space aliens.
- Great game by Darius Miller. He was everywhere, and made big shots and free throws.
- What I liked: The 'Cats never gave up, and I thought John Calipari did a fine job on the bench tonight against some stiff competition from an up-and-coming Johnny Dawkins (Dookie though he was).
- What I hated: UK's decision making -- it was singularly awful. Also the fact that Stanford out-hustled us all game long, and it showed. Offensive rebounds by the Cardinal were a large part of the reason they got this game into overtime.
This UK team is still a work in progress, and Stanford has given everyone a blueprint on how to beat Kentucky. Until this young team learns to make good decisions with the ball and play more as a team instead of five guys with skill, they are going to be vulnerable to teams that execute sharply.
The good news is, this is a great tape. It will give Coach Cal a ton of things to show his team, and was a great lesson all around. Stanford reminded me of Kentucky last year when they were executing well. It just goes to show you that winning at basketball isn't just about style and athleticism, it's about sharpness of mind, hustle, and a good game plan.