A game that many, including me, thought would be a shootout turned out to be a defensive struggle.
Congratulations to the Cornell Big Red for a very hard-fought game that was closer than the final score. The Big Red had this game in doubt until about the 90 second mark, and a parade to the free throw line plus some turnovers allowed Kentucky to pad the final margin. But Cornell gave a great account of themselves even though they shot very poorly from 3-point range thanks to a lock-down defensive effort by the Kentucky Wildcats. The Big Red were a worthy opponent and did themselves and their school proud.
For Kentucky, it was an incredibly hostile crowd for a neutral site game as many of the other fans whose teams are playing in Syracuse adopted the underdog Big Red and tried very hard to cheer them to victory.
But Kentucky's defense was stifling, even if their offense was as anemic as it has been any time this year. Credit the Big Red for changing defenses and giving Kentucky looks that they have not seen much, but Kentucky did enough to get a large lead going into the second half and despite letting Cornell get as close as six points midway through the second half, the Wildcats managed to hang on for a gritty victory.
More after the jump.
- Game ball: The entire team. What a defensive effort! I have rarely seen a basketball team so committed to staying home on shooters, making good switches and shows, blocking shots, and simply making it almost impossible for the opponent to score. This was by far the Wildcat's best defensive effort, no matter what the statistics say.
- John Wall had a forgettable game for him offensively, but he was really excellent defensively. He had a bunch of turnovers as well as assists and almost never got anything going to the basket that wasn't on a fast break.
- DeMarcus Cousins was, once again, a Kraken. A creature out of myth. He bulked enormous inside, and the Big Red had no answer. If he could have made free throws, UK would have won easily. Cousins seemed to have some back problems or tight hamstrings, which really gave me some concerns. But he played through them. Defense, offense, it didn't matter. Cousins played very well.
- Patrick Patterson was not going to allow any hope to the Big Red. He played well on both sides of the ball, was patient, rebounded, blocked shots and made plays.
- Eric Bledsoe had an up and down game. He made some really questionable fouls at highly inappropriate times, but he also made some big free throws down the stretch and a huge shot on an inbound play.
- Daniel Orton was great defensively. Blocked a bunch of shots and got robbed on a goaltending call.
- Once again, Liggins got on the floor and got to loose balls. But he didn't play his best today.
- Darnell Dodson barely played, and had no impact on the game.
- John Calipari had exactly the right game plan. We virtually never double-teamed, and stayed home on their shooters.
- Darius Miller was simply terrific defensively, and was one of the few offensive bright spots. He has been arguably the best player on the team in the tournament so far.
- The officiating was highly beneficial to the Big Red, in my humble opinion. I counted no less than seven calls that went their way that were no better than 50/50 at the very best. But I knew that would happen.
This was a great win for this Kentucky team, and the road only gets tougher from here. But with all the media nonsense surrounding this game, I'm really glad it's behind us and we can ignore any further blather about the young men from Ithaca. I am proud of this team and how hard and committed they played, and I raise my glass of Four Roses to the Wildcats of Kentucky. Salute!
Next up: Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers. No more David and Goliath, no more moral equivalence. Just basketball. Thank God.