Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this was a team that I recognized. I didn't recognize every player (more on that later), but this was the kind of defense, ball movement and toughness that I remember from the Louisville game, and many other times in the early season. What we saw tonight was Kentucky Wildcats Basketball.
The Tennessee Volunteers did not make it easy, and made several runs of the sort that Kentucky has responded poorly to on the road. Tennessee played physical, tough basketball. But in the comfy confines of Rupp Arena, the Wildcats did not succumb to the never-say-die effort of the Vols, and the very large first half lead proved too much for Tennessee, who is somewhat scoring challenged. The Volunteers deserve credit for a good try, but ultimately it wasn't nearly good enough.
I feel straight-up tremendous relief at getting this game, I won't lie about that. It looked comfortable, but several times I rose up out of my seat screaming at the TV set on the wall, which fortunately could not hear my profane rants. But there were many more times where I clapped and cheered, and when the cheers outweigh the colorful language, it's always a good thing.
There is no way to overstate how big this game was for the confidence of the Big Blue Nation as a whole. If we had lost to Bruce Pearl and the Volunteers at home in his first game back, it would have been tough to overcome. The naysayers would have swarmed the online fan sites, and life would have been miserable in the Bluegrass. Fortunately, we have avoided that fate, at least for the nonce.
More after the jump.
- DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson. The unlikely duo of upperclassmen dominated their respective positions, and led the way to a Wildcat victory. DeAndre Liggins not only scored a career high 19 points, but he utterly emasculated Scotty Hopson to the point that Pearl just took him out of the game. Harrellson's line is absurd -- 7-8 fg, 6 rebounds (4 offensive), 16 points, 2 steals, 2 assists and 1 block. Game ball is shared by both for the first time this year.
- Darius Miller played a very good floor game. He did not score well, but he rebounded and defended very well.
- Doron Lamb was marvelous in the first half, but wasn't much of a factor in the second. Still, he really did some good things.
- The offense does not run well at all without Brandon Knight in the lineup. Knight had his moments, and made some big shots. This wasn't his best game by far, but he moved the ball well and got everyone involved.
- Eloy Vargas was not nearly as good as he has been in the last few games, but he wasn't totally unfortunate, either.
- Terrence Jones may not have a lot of points, but he was an absolute monster on the glass, he played very good defense most of the time, and made every one of his free throws. Jones had more offensive rebounds (5) than Harrellson.
- This is how a team looks when everyone is involved in the offense. That two-man game at Florida really wasn't the right way to play the game, in my opinion, and what we saw tonight was much, much better.
- I loved the defensive effort, but I lament the turnovers, a bunch of which were plain inexcusable. They didn't matter because of the incredible effort on the offensive glass, but this turnover thing is getting to be a bad habit.
That's really about all I have. I hope everyone is as pleased as I am to see UK finally play well, at least relatively speaking, on both sides of the basketball. This is a game that UK really needed badly, and I can now sleep much better after this victory.