"Nice defense, Tar Heels."
[Editor's note: That picture will make sense after the jump, I promise.]
Larry Vaught has an interview with Anthony Davis on his site today that includes this exchange:
Question: Did Kentucky want to send message with a big win over a ranked team?
Davis: "No. We just went out there and played hard and did all the things that we were told to do. We came out and executed and started off a little slow, but we always do that. Then we came out and got the win."
This is a very mature statement for the young star, and my respect for both his basketball and PR IQ are growing by the moment.
Anthony Davis knows, I think, that the quickest way to lose your edge is worrying about what is going on in the national college basketball picture. To him, the Florida affair was just a basketball game that needed winning, not some kind of drama thing with North Carolina, Ohio St.., or Syracuse.
When players are able to leave the drama to bloggers and pundits and focus on the fundamentals of good basketball, guess what you get? Good basketball. It truly amazes me, and it doesn't get said often enough, the character of the young men Coach Cal has been able to recruit to Kentucky. These players are doing us, the Commonwealth, and the program, proud -- not just by winning basketball games, but by refusing to believe or listen to the hype, or what others hope they'll say.
Staying humble when you are as good as these guys are is very difficult, and I know a lot of UK fans who simply can't do it -- they just can't wait to talk about how UK is going to run roughshod over everyone. That may well happen, but it also may not.
For evidence as to how that works, you need look no further than North Carolina. The Tar Heels had hype beyond hype coming into this season, and after watching them play many times this year beyond the UK contest back in early December, I am convinced that they are sold on their own skill, and spend more time looking at themselves in the mirror than practicing their defense.
That loss UNC suffered to Duke last night was utterly inexcusable. The Blue Devils couldn't defend my 51-year old sister, let alone somebody like Harrison Barnes or Tyler Zeller, yet because the Tar Heels would not guard the Duke 3-point gunners (which, like Florida, is practically the only way the Blue Devils can score), they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and let Austin Rivers win the game on a last-second bomb.
You can tell by reading this that the Tar Heel fans just do not get it. Their defense is poor, or at the very least, it was in this game (and that's giving galactically-generous benefit of the doubt). That's why they lost -- they let Duke do what Duke does best. #5 ranked teams don't let rivals come on their home court and drop 14 3-pointers in their eye. If it happens in Cameron, well, that's one thing, but in the Dean Dome? UNC is far too good to have lost to the mediocre Blue Devils at home.
If I were a Tar Heel fan right now, I would be rhetorically beating Roy Williams' brains out. He has taught these players to fire up whatever crap they can get after 15 seconds in order to get the pace up, and judging from what I saw last night, the Tar Heels can't win if the other team has multiple threats from three -- they just refuse to come out and guard them for more than a few seconds. Nobody makes 14 closely-guarded threes in a 40-minute game -- if Carolina had just forced Duke to drive to the basket and make layups over John Henson and Zeller, they would have won by 20. It's called "strategy."
Florida could have done exactly the same thing to us if we'd let them, but Coach Cal knows the best way to win is make them either force up challenged threes or try to make layups over Davis and Terrence Jones. The result was a convincing victory, and it would have been the same for UNC if they'd used that simple, and ... dare I say it ... obvious strategy. Forget the weird, lucky plays that got the game close, it should never have been within 10.
So enjoy this Kentucky team and their unselfish, defense-first play while you can, and realize how lucky we are to have them. There are other ways to play this game that will get you beat by an inferior team. Yes, it may be more fun to run up and down the floor at breakneck speed shooting shots as fast as possible, but I think that way yields inferior results, even with great players.