Postmortems are so much easier to write when you are not speechless (either verbally or typographically) with apoplexy. Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats did just slightly more than enough to win this game. Ugly or pretty, nobody will ever know at the end of the year that this was anything other than a W.
I am not surprised that the Mississippi St. Bulldogs offered Kentucky such a stiff challenge. Last year's two overtime losses to Kentucky had to affect this team, they came in smarting from a bad loss against the Auburn Tigers, and they were ready to take it to Kentucky. They did so. If not for the untimely foul and absurd technical by Rick Stansbury at the end of the first half, who knows for sure what the outcome of this contest might have been? In the end, though, Kentucky did just enough to win, and made some timely big plays in the bargain. But Mississippi St. deserves praise for bringing their A game into Rupp Arena.
It is surely frustrating to Kentucky fans to watch the 'Cats execute so poorly at times at this point in the season. We have seen the Wildcats execute very well in Rupp Arena, for the most part, but tonight was not one of those times. Tonight was more about determination, guts, and maybe a little bit of help from a somewhat incoherent opponent. Mississippi State may be the second or third most talented team in the SEC, but they play very much like an AAU team. Even so, they almost had enough to beat Kentucky tonight with hot 55% 3-point shooting and a big man on the box who was hard to stop when he didn't offer some wild, flailing, challenged shot.
- Brandon Knight. What a determined game this young freshman played! He didn't always play well, and he made some bad plays and worse turnovers. But he scored when we needed it, he grabbed the team by the throat and shook them to wake them up, and just generally showed leadership. Game Ball.
- Doron Lamb. I really could give him the game ball. He hit huge shots, made most of his free throws, and ... did I mention he hit huge shots?
- Josh Harrellson played really well, overall. He gave Renardo Sidney all he could despite a talent deficit, and had two blocks to go along with 9 points and six rebounds. Not great, but very not bad.
- Terrence Jones also deserves consideration for the game ball. He shot 7-11 from the floor (albeit with some really ugly FGA's) and got yet another double-double.
- DeAndre Liggins just didn't have a great game in any respect tonight. He did a few things, but generally just didn't bring his best.
Darius Miller would have won the game ball if he had not put up a goose egg in the rebounding area. He made some big shots but zero rebounds, Darius? Really? At least he was aggressive and emotional despite his injury.
- I thought Eloy Vargas did some good things in the five minutes he played. He missed a dunk, which kind of overshadows the rest, but I thought he defended really well.
- Finally, Stacey Poole Jr. was far more animated and involved from the bench than I have seen him all year. For most of this year, he has been surly and uninvolved, but tonight, he was part of the team and I found myself wishing for him to get a few minutes. I hope this version stays around a while, and we well might get to see him get minutes.
Look, let's be honest, Wildcat fans -- I am reaching for praise here because this was an ugly, poorly played game, and no mistake. This was not what we'd hoped for in terms of execution on either side of the ball, but it does have one redeeming quality that completely buries all the negatives -- it was a win.
Winning is good. Ugly, pretty, whatever. Winning is good.