The news tonight will be all about Mike Krzyzewski's 903rd win, and well it should be. Congratulations to the Duke Blue Devils and Coach K for the milestone. But for Kentucky fans, there was another game, and a much more important one to Big Blue and Kansas Jayhawk partisans. The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 75-65 in a tough, physical game that introduced the Kentucky freshman to big-time college basketball.
This was a worthy effort by a gritty but slightly under-talented Kansas team that came in an underdog and came out perhaps better for the wear despite the loss. Kansas may sink a bit in the rankings, but they displayed the kind of toughness that teams with experienced players, especially under excellent coaching like Bill Self's, often display in big games like this. Kansas went down, but they went down reluctantly, resisting to the bitter end. The Jayhawks played like they had a chip on their shoulder, and that attitude will serve them well the rest of the season.
But the Wildcats would not be denied. They used some massive runs in the second half to put Kansas in a big hole that proved to be too deep to dig out of. Kansas fought back, but the Wildcats began making threes as well as transition dunks, and the Jayhawks, in the end, bowed to the superior team.
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Once again, he proved the wisdom of Calipari's declaration that he must start. His intensity, length, and toughness were exactly what Kentucky needed to win. He didn't score a lot, but he rebounded and made great passes, sharing the team lead for both assists and rebounds. 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a block. He did have 5 turnovers, but he still gets the game ball.
- I loved the emotion Terrence Jones brought, and it mostly served him well, although a few times it seemed to get the better of him. He had 15 points and 7 rebounds to go with 4 blocks.
- Anthony Davis was a matchup nightmare and a blocking machine. Six blocks to go with Jones' 4, along with 12 points and 4 assists, but only 3 rebounds. For a 6'10" player, that's a problem.
- Doron Lamb led all scoring with 17 points, and was very poised, especially in the second half and running the point in relief of Teague. That extra year has really improved him in a lot of ways.
Darius Miller played better than you might think, with 5 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and only 2 turnovers. He made a dagger three and a huge post-up turn around and-one. If he'd only made that free throw ...
- Marquis Teague struggled the whole first half, but really settled down in the second. He wound up with 12 points and 4 assists, but 6 turnovers and a number of really bad breakdowns marred his effort. He'll get better, playing the point in Calipari's system is a lot harder than it looks.
- Eloy Vargas and Kyle Wiltjer played, but they had no real impact on the game.
This was a solid victory, and the game went pretty much according to how I expected. Both teams started out jittery with the magnitude of the moment, and the entire first half was a grind-it-out, ugly affair. The second half saw Kentucky shoot a great percentage, (not sure what as of this writing) that gave them 55% overall for the night. That will win a lot of ball games, and as we expected, the transition game was just impossible for the Jayhawks to effectively contain.
Calipari has a lot of work yet to do with this team. They played a very undisciplined game in the first half, and won mostly on talent and not on execution, although the offensive and defensive execution were notably better in the second half. Pretty or ugly, this was a big win by Kentucky, and a 47-point outburst in the second half will win you a lot of ball games.
I'll have more to say about this later as I examine the replay, but I think we're all really happy to get a win against a top 25 club this early in the season.