John Pelphrey deserves better ... a University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball legend deserves better than what Pelphrey got Saturday afternoon in a frenzied, geeked-to-the-peak Rupp Arena.
John Pelphrey, former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, deserves better than to be on the receiving end of one of the great beat-downs in recent SEC memory. It's simply his bad fortune, and the SEC schedule makers bad timing, that Arkansas was selected to encounter a Kentucky team on the verge of being ranked No. 1 for the first time in nearly seven years. With the hunger clearly evident in the 'Cats' eyes, and with a week to prepare, the 'Cats went about the business of playing the most dominating, complete performance of the season.
John Pelphrey, truly an "Unforgettable" UK performer, deserves better than to be on the receiving end of Kentucky's finest (by a long shot), most smothering defensive effort of the season. With John Calipari smartly alternating defenders on Arkansas' most dangerous performers, Courtney Fortson and Rontei "I Can't Get Open" Clarke, the 'Cats simply defended their way to domination. Denying Clarke space, and for most of his nightmare, the ball, UK rendered the SEC's most lethal outside shooter, impotent. And with Daniel Orton (four blocks in 13 minutes), as well as DeMarcus Cousins, blocking or altering shots as if a hot date with Beyonce' (please pardon the reference, Jay-Z) rested in the balance, the Hogs were left with no offensive alternatives.
And Arkansas playing UK on this day, without any semblance of offensive capabilities ... well, let's just say it was an unpleasant experience if one found oneself rooting for the Razorbacks.
John Pelphrey, he of the 1,257 career points scored in a Kentucky uniform, deserved better than to be witness to Darius Miller's (a career-high18 points on 7-9 shooting, 4-6 treys) coming out party ... 2010 Edition. Miller, feelin'-it from the get-go, let shots fly from every zip code on the court, and more often than not, the daggers found their mark, evidenced by the tantalating tickling of the twine. Miller, whose on-again, off-again manner of play this year has frustrated his coach, along with his fans, displayed for all to see his numerous offensive weapons: From his three-point shot, to his mid-range jumper, to his athleticism which led to him snagging offensive rebounds, Miller played as well offensively as he ever has since donning the Kentucky uniform.
John Pelphrey, who chose to stay with his 'Cats even though probation was staring him directly in the face, deserves better than to be victim of DeMarcus Cousins' (16 points on 7-10 shooting, and 14 rebounds) emerging dominance. Cousins, who is quickly developing post moves Hakeem Olajuwon would be proud of, was a man among boys Saturday afternoon. Dipsy-doos, dunks, and 15-foot jumpers littered the Rupp Arena landscape, all thanks to the sometimes uncanny, and oftentimes remarkable offensive repertoire of UK's fast-rising big man.
Tripled teamed ... didn't matter. It's pick your poison when Cousins finds himself within shouting distance of the basket. He either spins away from the pressure for a dunk or layup, or passes to the perimeter, assisting on an open jumper. His game has come a distance, there is no denying that fact.
John Pelphrey, the one Kentucky player who most decidedly got the most out of his ability, deserves better than to be sent home with a 31 point loss ... and folks, it wasn't that close. The high-water mark occurred on a John Wall jumper with 14:05 remaining in the "game," which made the score 80-34 ... that's a 46 point differential for those of you mathematically challenged.
And speaking of Wall, as well as back court mate Eric Bledsoe (10 points on 5-9 shooting): The ultra-athletic duo combined for 13 assists (seven for Wall, six for Bledsoe), 10 rebounds, and 26 points, and just generally created havoc for the Hogs with their incredible speed, play-making ability, and uncanny court vision. Although Wall was only 5-12 from the floor, it really didn't matter. The other aspects of his game were on-target; witness his seven assists, to only two turnovers, and the fact that he utterly controlled tempo, allowing the 'Cats to play their fast-pace, fast break, run and dunk game.
John Pelphrey, one of the great, stalwart team leaders in UK history, deserves better than to see his team shoot a putrid 30.6%, "led" by point guard Courtney Fortson's 5-17 accuracy, Rotnei Clarke's 5-15 display, and bedazzled freshman Marshawn Powell's 4-12 shooting. Furthermore, Pelphrey deserves better than six total assists ... SIX assists ... in a forty minute game! Perhaps no game stat encapsulates the 'Cats defensive domination more.
But coach Pelphrey, in retrospect, it wouldn't have mattered who the 'Cats came up against Saturday afternoon. This team was focused and mentally alert at all times. The result of the increased (mental) attention given the Hogs was a sight not seen 'round these parts in at least seven long years: Domination, until domination gave way to exultation.
So rest easy 'Cat fans, for those not yet sold on John Calipari's bill of goods, this team has what it takes to bring home the glory we all aspire to witness: Kentucky's eighth national title. They have shown in living color what destruction they are capable of inflicting upon their seemingly helpless foe.
But the all-important next step is sustainability. Will the 'Cats take from Saturday's dismantling of the Hogs the most important lesson of all -- That playing with a purpose, with an assist from their "cartoonishly" high talent level, sure victory will most times be in the offing. But, with a freshman laden roster, one never knows what to expect, so ...
... Do I expect, or demand the 'Cats perform as admirably as they did Saturday, for every game the rest of the season? Well, in short, no. That would be a feat never before seen at the collegiate, or any other level. But now that this team has executed both offensively and defensively about as well as they are capable of executing, I do expect the team to carry the lesson learned with them throughout their remaining schedule. Not every game will be a rout ... not every game will be a victory ... not every time they go to the bank will the dollar bills be there. But what this team controls is their effort. And full effort is all anyone can ask and we've all now seen what full effort looks like. With that, the winning will take care of itself.
So my apologies to John Pelphrey. I wish it hadn't been you and your team on the business end of humiliating defeat, but fickle fate, in the form of the schedule-makers, intervened. A Kentucky boy deserves better.
But for UK players and fans alike, it's time to embrace, and make No. 1 our own ... "it's a badge of honor," so says coach Cal, of course he also says UK is 11-8, and so it goes ...
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!