UK Athletics: The Good, the Bad, and the Hilarious

With the basketball 'Cats fresh off their 68-66 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels, and the football 'Cats officially going country with their third Music City Bowl invite in four years, there is much happening in the world of Kentucky sports.  While normally I write about a particular event or topic, today I'm going to venture into the realm of diversification and include in this post thoughts on the happenings of UK basketball and football.

For more, make the jump with me:  

The Good

Fast-break 'Cats -- For those who witnessed UK's roller-coaster win over North Carolina on Saturday, you saw nine minutes and twenty-eight seconds of near perfection.  With UK down 9-2 at the 17:16 mark of the first half, the 28-2 Big Blue blitzkrieg that followed, had me, 'ol Roy, and anyone else watching wondering if the Wildcats would pulverize our powder blue rivals into submission before halftime.  For nearly ten minutes the 'Cats did what they do best, and that is leave it to John Wall to gallop at a break-neck pace; passing, shooting, and alley-ooping his way into the hearts of Kentucky fans (and NBA scouts).

During UK's dominant first-half demonstration Wall scored seven points, and assisted on four of UK's other eight made baskets.  He loudly and proudly announced to the world that the hype surrounding his "game" is not only justified, but it may be understated. 

Also getting into the act during UK's nine-and-a-half minutes of bliss were: Darius Miller -- Two three-pointers, a mid-range jumper, two steals, and one assist: Patrick Patterson -- A jumper, dunk, layup, and two free throws: Darnell Dodson contributed a three-pointer and a steal.

During a stretch most coaches only dream about, the 'Cats made 11-14 shots (with six assists), pilfered the Heels four times, and committed only two turnovers (neither by a guard).  UK's stifling defense (with an assist to the pace) held the Tar Heels to only 1-9 shooting, while forcing eight turnovers.

From down 9-2, to up 30-11 in less than half of a half -- No one, and I mean no one will want to run with this team.  If Roy Williams, possibly the elite fast break coach in the country, doesn't want any part of the John Wall-led "Wonder of Me Tour," no coach interested in winning will be enthused to see Wall streaking unmolested toward the basket with a team of thoroughbreds filling the lane, or waiting to pop from the perimeter.  To emasculate a lesser-team in such a way is impressive, but North Carolina's roster is filled with talent, which makes what I saw awe-inspiring.

UK won despite a sub-par performance by DeMarcus Cousins -- Many so-called experts have prognosticated that Kentucky cannot beat good teams (and therefore, be a Final Four contender), without Cousins being a major force.  Bull excrement! 

Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton, and Perry Stevenson displayed why the mercurial Cousins, while very talented, is not the key to UK's low post play -- Patterson produced a typical PPat game: 19 points, seven rebounds, one block and one steal, while Orton and Stevenson combined to play 26 minutes and produced five rebounds, three blocks, one steal, and one assist.

As long as Patterson has another player of size working with him down low, taking a bit of the defensive pressure off, he is capable of handling the workload.  He's proved that for two-plus years.

UK won despite John Wall missing seven straight minutes of action -- I admit, when Wall started limping, I started pacing.

When Wall left the game in the second half at the 18:46 mark (and began his hypodermic-dodging journey back to the floor), UK was up 45-30.  When Wall reappeared, much to the delight of the record-setting Rupp Arena crowd (as well as millions of palpitating UK fans at home), at the 11:44 mark, Kentucky was up 54-42.  My calculator says UNC outscored the 'Cats 12-9 in that nerve-racking stretch of the game.  Not bad when one considers Wall is the heart and soul of what makes UK go.

The 'Cats did commit four turnovers (two by Bledsoe, one each by Patterson and Ramon Harris), and they made only 4-12 shots (three of the makes were by Patterson) during the stretch, but they held serve, they preserved the lead, and that's all that really matters.  Good teams win despite adversity.  The fulfillment of that adage was on full display Saturday afternoon.

The final two minutes -- With UK clinging to a 61-56 lead over the Heels (at the two minute mark), freshmen guards John Wall and Eric Bledsoe refused to allow the 'Cats to lose.  Over the two minutes that mean the most, Wall and Bledsoe combined to make five of six free throws, stole a pass (Wall), made a layup (Bledsoe), and dished out an assist (Wall).

The "Cool Hand Luke" demeanor in which these two players perform in end-game scenarios, at such a young age, cannot be overstated.  Some players are simply gifted with the absence of fear.  We are now watching two such gifted athletes.  Enjoy 'em while ya got 'em.

UPDATE -- Kentucky's three-point threat -- With UK's 6-16 (37.5%) three-point shooting against North Carolina, the 'Cats trey accuracy now stands at 37.9% (50-132) on the year. 

Led by Darius Miller's 40.0% shooting (14-35), Kentucky is quickly putting to rest the preseason questioning of their perimeter game.  Eric Bledsoe, who's only weakness was thought to be his shooting, has pitched-in to the tune of 12 made treys on 25 attempts (48.0%); Darnell Dodson, now liberated from the Calipari doghouse, has made a respectable 38.5% (10-26), and possesses one of the sweetest strokes this side of Chris Lofton; and finally, Patrick Patterson continues to impress with his outside shot by making 6-14 (42.9%).

I don't know when UK's perimeter game ceases to be a cause for concern, but I sense the time is near.

Music City Bowl invite -- While many UK fans are unhappy about returning to Nashville for the third time in four years, I choose instead to celebrate four straight years of UK bowl games.  It's a milestone for the program, and a tribute to one of the best senior classes in Kentucky football history. 

So many 'Cats had outstanding seasons -- Derrick Locke, Randall Cobb, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell, La 'Rod King, and John Conner all produced fantastic individual years.  They, as well as the other 'Cats, deserve the full support of the BBN while they do battle with C.J. Spiller and the Clemson Tigers in the Music City Bowl. 

Football 'Cats honored -- It was announced Monday that five UK football players were selected by the Associated Press as All-SEC performers -- Randall Cobb: First Team all-purpose player -- Corey Peters: Second Team defensive tackle -- Sam Maxwell: Second Team linebacker -- Derrick Locke: Second Team all-purpose player -- Zipp Duncan: Honorable Mention offensive lineman.

Congratulations to all the 'Cats selected, with one caveat -- Sam Maxwell deserved First Team honors.  He was second in the SEC with six interceptions, and he made big play after key play in UK's road victories over Auburn, Georgia, and Vanderbilt.  I honestly can't think of another SEC linbacker that I would have rather had.

The Bad

The DeMarcus Cousins in-game pout -- I was the same way at his age -- I allowed (perceived) poor officiating to get in my head. 

What Cousins has to realize is: DON'T ALLOW THE OFFICIALS TO BEAT YOU TWICE.  It's comparable to a golfer allowing one bad shot to adversely effect his next shot.  It's a recipe for pine-time, and unfulfilled potential.

Although I feel confident John Calipari will work his pupil through this flaw in his game, it may take some time.  Cousins, afterall, is accustomed to getting all the calls in high school, he's accustomed to bullying his foes, not being on the receiving end of such physical play (and there definitely was an abundance of physical play on Saturday).  Well, this ain't high school ball, DeMarcus.  Adjust accordingly, and become the beast that is within you.

Underused Patterson -- With the absence of John Wall from the 18:46 mark to the 11:44 mark of the second half, one would expect Patrick Patterson to become that which the offense runs through.  Well apparently, one would be wrong.

During that seven minute stretch, Patterson took exactly four shots, with one of those shots being an offensive rebound of his only miss (of that stretch).  UK's big man, and best player (if Wall isn't on the floor), simply has to receive more touches if such a predicament faces UK in the future. 

I realize Eric Bledsoe was playing erratically at the time, he was ... trying to do too much while Wall was sidelined.  But what young Mr. Bledsoe would be wise to remember is that he needs to run the offense through Patterson, ensure the big fella gets his touches, and everything else will open up.

Sam Maxwell's labrum tear and Micah Johnson's omission -- The terrible news out of the Nutter Complex that Sam Maxwell will miss the Music City Bowl was most unpleasant for this UK fan.  Maxwell, a senior, played sparingly through his first three years in Lexington, opting to patiently wait his turn in lieu of transferring.  And when earning the opportunity to start, the Georgia native put up big numbers, and made game-changing plays.  My thanks to Maxwell for a job well done, and good luck at the next level.

Maxwell's senior statistics -- 80 tackles (42 solo) (second on the team), 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, six interceptions (second in the SEC), seven pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.

Micah Johnson's omission from the AP All-SEC team is laughable.  UK's senior middle linebacker posted 100 tackles (fifth in the SEC) , 6.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and one sack.  And he did all of this while battling plantar fasciitis and a bad ankle for most of the year.

The Hilarious

I like John Calipari.  I've liked him since he brought his UMass team to Rupp Arena in December of 1991.  He impressed me then, and he's impressed me ever since; he's a fine coach, and a great recruiter.  A fan can't ask  for much more.

But, his "like-ability" quotient shot through the roof Saturday, when after the game he said the following (paraphrasing) -- When I saw where Seth Davis predicted us to lose, I knew we had a chance.

Most UK fans know Seth Davis, and most UK fans don't like Seth Davis.  He speaks of that which he doesn't know, and is paid handsomely to do so.  Which is why I spewed my just ingested Coca-Cola all over my carpet when Calipari called a spade ... a spade.

Thanks, coach, finally someone with credibility called-out a national media member, and did so without hesitation.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Huskies!

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