As expected tonight, the struggling Kentucky Wildcats were simply too much in every respect for the young Samford Bulldogs in storied Rupp Arena. It was a first-half blowout, with the Wildcats carrying a 31-point lead into the break.
Thanks to Samford for the good effort, and in the second half, the Bulldogs really redeemed themselves, scoring 42 points to Kentucky's 43. The game was already out of reach but the Bulldogs refused to roll over and die, to their credit.
This was, on balance, a quality effort for the young Wildcats. Their effort and intensity in the first half burned so hot that it nearly melted big-screen TV's across the Commonwealth, as they completely dominated play in every aspect. If they had been hot from the perimeter instead of barely lukewarm, the damage could have been even more severe, but they did plenty.
The second half saw a much less motivated Kentucky team revert a bit, but they played plenty well enough to cruise to an easy victory over an overmatched team.
- Willie Cauley-Stein had an excellent game individually. He only shot 5 of 10, which really isn't that good for a big man, but he did have a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds to go with 4 blocks, 3 steals and an assist. Game ball.
- Archie Goodwin was really good, and rarely out of control for once. He still has a tendency to favor the difficult shot over the simple play, but he is making progress. He was a narrow runner up to WCS for the game ball on the strength of 18 points on 6-11 shooting, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and only 1 turnover.
- Alex Poythress also had a good game, shooting the ball very well at 7-9 for 16 points and 8 rebounds. He had 5 turnovers, however, to mar his otherwise stellar line.
- Julius Mays had a really solid game with 10 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds. Very nice, very controlled, very mature basketball out of Julius tonight.
- Ryan Harrow played fine, and played 21 minutes. He only managed 2 points, but he did have 4 assists and did not make a turnover.
- Nerlens Noel was really a lot better than his stat line. He didn't score a lot with only 13 points, and didn't impress on the boards with only 6 rebounds, But he was a terror on defense, blocking 5 shots and stealing 2, both resulting in baskets. He affected too many shots to count, and he was a major problem for the Bulldogs.
- Kyle Wiltjer continues to struggle with his shot, managing only 10 points on 3-9 shooting. He did have 4 beautiful assists and 7 rebounds, so he did help the team, and his defense was not awful.
- Jon Hood had a big game in 4 minutes, scoring 6 points on 2-3 shooting, all from three. He also had a rebound.
- Jarrod Polson played okay, scoring only 1 point, but he did have 4 assists, but 2 turnovers and 2 steals.
- Wiljer needs to play better offensively. Not sure what's going on with his shot, but he needs to fix it.
- Poythress struggles with turnovers and seems to rush too much. He seems slow to figure out how to play the game at the college level, and although he had a great stat line, I didn't really love the way he played.
- I really don't like the way this team rushes on offense, and lost so much intensity in the second half. I understand that you cannot keep intensity high in a 30-point blowout, but they just seemed not even to try. When a team like Samford scores one point fewer than you do on your home floor in a half, you haven't done the job.
- Harrow is showing signs, but right now, they are just that - signs. He's still not ready to take this team.
- If Goodwin will ever figure out how to make the simple play, he will be truly great. He just makes everything look so incredibly difficult.
- When Nerlens Noel is totally amped up, he is scary. Unfortunately, he drifts in and out of the required intensity, and still goes for too many fakes.
- Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer are both too weak to play the game at this level. They can't hold the ball, they drop balls in traffic, they struggle to rebound through contact. Rock Oliver needs to drag these two into the weight room and make men out of them, because right now, they are playing like boys.
This was a decent first step back from the dark place we found ourselves in after the Baylor loss. We saw some glimpses of what this team can be when it takes on it's full Aspect and confidently wields its Attributes, but those periods are unpredictable and often too short.
The Wildcats welcome the Portland Pilots into Rupp Arena on Saturday, and then have a week to prepare for their next game, badly needed coaching time for Calipari & Co. This team, you can be sure, will only get better. The only question is how long it will take, and how high they can go.