Kentucky 65 @ Creighton 63:  Postmortem

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First of all, a confession.

This week, with all the talk of replacing the UK men's basketball coach after only two years on the job and the long interregnum between games during which we were treated to lots and lots of that other tournament going on right now, my emotional stability has been seriously strained.  In the mornings, I approach my own blog with reluctant trepidation, expecting to see some new apocalyptic revelation that is either upon us or just on the horizon.

Tonight, at the end of the game, I was completely drained, probably as much due to the hard day at work as to the nip-and-tuck nature of the contest.  After it was over, I barely cheered, just numb with pressure and frustration and the fatigue of a long season gone horribly wrong -- until I realized that we won the game, that last shot didn't fall like so many others have, and the 'Cats will live to play one more game at least.

Second, congratulations to the Creighton Bluejays, a truly worthy foe and a blast from a distant past when so much was different.  Dana Altman is a terrific coach, and Creighton came within maybe two inches on Booker Woodfox's jumper of sticking yet another dagger into a Kentucky team that already looks like a voodoo doll having a bad needle day.  But the basketball gods decided, for whatever reason, to grant the Wildcats ten lives instead of the usual nine, and they prevailed in a defensive struggle with the #1 seeded Bluejays.

You would think I would be all smiles, and I am happy, but tightness of the game combined with all the rumormongering has just taken too much out for me to properly enjoy this victory, at least now.  It is great knowing we beat a team that really should have received an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament.  I must confess, being in the NIT has been a different and not nearly as unpleasant an experience as I expected.  This year's NIT has been very competitive and very exciting, certainly rivaling that other tournament for drama, if not glamor and prestige.

As they have every single game recently, Kentucky played very hard and very determined basketball.  Their execution varied from pretty good to downright poor, but a lot of that was due to a remarkable defensive effort by Creighton.  The Bluejays, as have most teams recently, decided that they would try to let the rest of the team beat them rather than chance a defeat at the hands of Patterson and Meeks.  For the most part, they shut Meeks down completely until midway through the second half, when the Bluejay defenders finally began to wear down and Meeks' superior athleticism and stamina took over.  But it nearly was too little, too late.

Observations:

  • If UK had another quality post player, there would be no defending us.
  • If UK had one more serious perimeter threat, there would be no defending us.
  • Ramon Harris played what I consider to be one of his best overall games as a Wildcat.  He was very aggressive when we needed someone to be and delivered big plays, as well as tough defense.  9  points and 8 assists to go with 4 rebounds.
  • Perry Stevenson wound up with a double-double, 13 points 10 rebounds, but it didn't feel like that good a game for some reason.  Perry continues to hesitate when he should just shoot.
  • Patrick Patterson, hampered by fouls, did OK, but he just seemed to struggle to get into position to receive the ball.
  • DeAndre Liggins looked very good out there tonight, despite having only 3 points and one assist.
  • Jodie Meeks wore 'em down like he always does.  It must be frustrating to be face-guarded all the time like that.
  • Michael Porter was as good tonight as he is ever likely to be.
  • Darius Miller wasn't as good as he has been lately, but he still chipped in with five points and two assists.
  • UK got outrebounded by a much smaller team.  How does this keep happening?
  • Nice call by Gillispie on that last play.  I think we should clear out for Meeks more often.
  • Kevin Galloway seemed really out of control and unfocused tonight.
  • A.J. Stewart tried too hard to make plays, and wound up not helping much, although he did get a couple of rebounds.  Maybe Gillispie should have let him play more.
  • Harrellson missed 3 layups.  That's not good.
  • Kentucky took fairly decent care of the ball tonight.  I hope it's a trend.
  • The largest lead by UK was the final difference.  The lead changed 13 times and was tied 9.  That is the very definition of a close game.
  • Seems a tornado hit in the Omaha area while the game was going on.  What is it about Kentucky and tornadoes?  Is God trying to tell us something?
  • The Creighton fans were terrific.  I was really impressed with them.

I am very pleased to beat a #1 seed, even in the NIT.  To me, this is like some kind of throwback to the 1975-76 when UK won the NIT and I was off to my first year at Western.  It was a lot more prestigious then than it is now, but it was beginning to lose its luster.  Still, this year's NIT seems like a prize worth taking, if we can do it.  Getting past this tough little team was definitely a step in the right direction.

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