Reversal of Fortune
The Kentucky Wildcats (20-12, 9-8) experienced a trend reversal in yesterday's opening round 71-58 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels: It's the first time all year that UK has won a game in which they were outscored from the three-point line. Ole Miss notched five made threes, while UK wasn't "feelin' it" from long distance, going only 1-10.
The victory also halted UK's unpleasant four game losing streak, keeping alive their slim hopes for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
How did they win? They won with defense, an aspect of their game that has been a dismal failure of late. But yesterday, UK held Ole Miss to only 20 points, and 31.8% field goal shooting in the second half, after allowing the Rebels to make 14-26 shots (53.8%) in the opening stanza. UK also took care of the basketball, committing only 10 turnovers to Mississippi's 18, which resulted in another reversal of fortune: UK outscored their opponent by 16 points in the points off turnovers category.
Continuing UK's reversal of fortune (Claus von Bulow would be proud): The 'Cats placed four players in double figures, with Jodie Meeks leading the way with 25 points, followed by Patrick Patterson's 15 (and 14 boards). Perry Stevenson must have eaten his Wheaties for breakfast because he showed signs of life with 13 points and eights rebounds (4 offensive), and late-comer Darius Miller chipped in with 12 points on 5-9 shooting.
And finally, what has been UK's undoing all season, offensive rebounding, was a strength yesterday. The 'Cats grabbed six more offensive boards than the Rebels, allowing UK to outscore Ole Miss by five in second chance points.
In order for UK to continue their improbable run toward the SEC Championship game, they must once again execute defensively and play smartly. Because today against the SEC Regular season champion, the #16 ranked LSU Tigers (25-6, 13-3), they will be facing an experienced-laden team that isn't prone to making the same mistakes as the depleted Ole Miss Rebels.
On February 28, LSU invaded Rupp Arena and came away with a hard-earned 73-70 victory: LSU junior forward Tasmin Mitchell nailed a three-pointer with 9.8 seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Tigers.
UK head coach Billy Gillispie said this after the loss --
"We're just not a mature enough team to beat a team that is smart and mature like LSU is."
Have the 'Cats grown-up? They certainly took a positive step toward maturity yesterday.
Gillispie placed the blame for the earlier LSU loss squarely on his own shoulders. Saying that his decision to take out Ramon Harris at the 10:54 mark of the second half with UK up 54-44, cost the Wildcats the game. Gillispie noted after the game that Harris "looked like he was having a heart attack," which is why he removed the junior G/F from the game. Gillispie also stated that he was worried that Harris may have been suffering some type of after-effect related to his head injury suffered earlier in the year.
Regardless, UK went from up 10, to up only two points in Harris' four-and-a-half minute absence (he re-entered the game at the 6:35 mark), but more importantly newly minted Conference Player of the Year Marcus Thornton caught fire, scoring 15 late points (19 total second half points), carrying the Tigers to victory.
Kentucky also "accomplished" a rarity in the first LSU game: They lost despite shooting 60.7% in the second half (17-28). Meeks and Patterson were a combined 13-21 from the field (61.9%) in the second half, and accounted for 29 UK points. But it wasn't enough to overcome a 15-9 LSU advantage in second chance points, as well as a Tiger win in the points off turnovers battle (18-15).
But, the primary reason for the Tiger victory was once again a lack of perimeter defense by Kentucky -- LSU made 9-20 three-point shots (45.0%), dwarfing UK's 3-14 effort from beyond the arc (21.4%), and off-setting UK's huge advantage in points in the paint (46-24).
LSU Personnel -- Conference Games Only
Marcus Thornton: 6-4, 205 lb senior guard -- Thornton averages 22.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He's shooting 46.5% from the field, 38.5% from beyond the arc (37-96), and 78.9% from the free throw line.
In the first game -- Thornton scored 23 points on 8-23 shooting (2-7 threes), grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists and committed two turnovers.
Tasmin Mitchell: 6-7, 235 lb junior forward -- He's averaging 18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds (2.9 offensive), 2.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He shoots 53.9% from the field, 58.3% from the three-point line (7-12), and 73.6% from the free throw line.
In the first game -- Mitchell scored 21 points on 9-13 shooting (1-2 threes), gathered eight rebounds, had two assists, FIVE steals, three turnovers, and hit the previously-mentioned game-winning three-pointer.
Bo Spencer: 6-1, 185 lb sophomore guard -- Spencer is averaging 11.1 points, 2.6 assists, and 2.5 rebounds per game. He makes 40.3% of his shots, 40.3% of his three-point tries (25-62), and 81.5% of his free throws.
In the first game -- He scored 16 points, making 6-12 shots (4-7 threes). He dished out three assists, had two steals and two turnovers.
Garrett Temple: 6-6, 195 lb senior guard -- Temple averages 7.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. He's shooting 35.8% from the floor, 29.8% from beyond the arc (14-47), and 81.4% from the charity stripe.
In the first game -- Temple scored one point, had one rebound, one assist, three blocks and one turnover.
Chris Johnson: 6-11, 210 lb senior center -- Johnson is averaging 7.8 points, 7.7 rebounds (2.7 offensive), and 3.4 blocks per game. He's shooting 49.5% from the field, and 87.5% from the free throw line (14-16).
In the first game -- In 14 minutes of action Johnson scored two points (1-3 shooting), had four rebounds, one assist, one turnover, and was generally abused by Patrick Patterson.
Terry Martin: 6-6, 210 lb senior guard -- Martin is averaging 4.7 points, and 2.7 rebounds per game. He makes 34.6% of his shots, 27.3% of his threes (9-33), and 66.7% of his free throws.
In the first game -- In 18 minutes he scored eight points on 3-4 shooting (2-3 threes), nabbed one rebound, dished out one assist, had one steal, one block and one turnover.
This is Patrick Patterson's day!
The big fella dominated the paint in the earlier LSU game, scoring 28 points on 12-17 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds. LSU simply has no answer for UK's big man. Feeding the post early and often should be a large part of Billy Gillispie's game-plan -- Let Patterson carry UK on his substantial shoulders, and with Perry Stevenson's renewed interest the 'Cats have a dual-threat post presence for the first time in several weeks.
Conference Coach of the Year Trent Johnson will once again pressure Jodie Meeks with Tasmin Mitchell, Marcus Thornton and Garrett Temple so UK will have to run some offensive sets to get their star guard some open looks (Meeks was 10-22 from the field, but only 1-9 from behind the arc in the first game).
I suspect that Ramon Harris will take on Marcus Thornton once again. UK's lock-down defender did an exceptional job on LSU's scoring machine in the first match-up. A repeat performance for the "Alaskan Assassin" will go a long way in helping UK secure their second victory in a row.
Michael Porter must take care of the ball as he did yesterday against Ole Miss -- He committed only one turnover, and had three assists. LSU isn't known for pressuring the ball, so Porter will have the opportunity to run the offense relatively hassle-free.
But most importantly, Kentucky's defense must show up as it did yesterday. When UK plays frenetic, active defense, they usually win. Today's game should be no different.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Tigers!