I tend to be a "glass half full" kind of guy. Optimism is in my DNA; it is annoying to some but it's the way I roll. That's why I am not that upset as some may be at this Kentucky team right now. Despite a gut-wrenching loss to a Razorback squad that is damn near unbeatable at home and being 12-4 on the season, there is still a lot to be excited about for the rest of the season.
First, let's get the negatives out of the way:
- The free throw situation is still killing this team. They would have at least two more in the win column if they had hit a higher percentage of free throws. I know Cal says don't worry, but at what point can we start to worry?
- This team should be a better three point shooting team and they show flashes of it. It's a confidence thing and that confidence is building.
- Sometimes the point guard play can be frustrating, but the fact remains that Andrew Harrison is improving. The turnovers aren't his entire fault, but he makes his fair share. Give him time; he is going to be fine. He is learning with the rest of them.
Those were the negative points that I wanted to make. Let me now focus on the positives. This team is getting better game by game. The defensive intensity is up; the offense is being run with better efficiency; players are sacrificing their bodies for loose balls; they care about each other and are picking each other up when they are down; and they are listening to their coach.
Take Julius Randle for example. The knock on Julius all season has been his lack of defensive intensity. There was a moment in the Arkansas game when Randle was guarding his man at the top of the key with his arms by his side; showboating instead of fronting the man with the ball with arms raised to the sky. The Arkansas player easily lobbed a pass to the man in the middle for an easy score. Calipari called a time-out; he physically mocked Randle by crouching in a defensive stance with his arms to his sides, making a point about keeping his hands in the air, and then promptly benched the best offensive player and rebounder on the court.
How did Randle respond? He came off of the bench and became the best DEFENSIVE player on the court. He played with a fire that we had not witnessed thus far. He was blocking shots, sprinting to the ball, and he didn't let his hands drop below his shoulders.
This example of a player's response to his coach is why I am so excited and optimistic. These kids are finally getting it. They are starting to understand what it takes to win. The Wildcats need to continue to have battles like that; like the battle they had against Michigan State, Baylor, North Carolina and Louisville. The tide is turning. They are getting closer and closer. Instead of a four or five point loss, Kentucky lost by two in overtime. They are right where they need to be.
So while the chants of "Sooooooeeeeyyyyyy Pig" were enough to make a saint curse in frustration, and the players looked as devastated as they have been all season, take heart; the players feel it and they get it. Once they put it all together, they will be the most dangerous team in the country.
There are still chances for quality wins and to grab a good seed in the tournament. Kentucky still has to play Florida twice as well as Missouri. It's an early conference loss in January and it isn't the end of the world.
It's happening Big Blue Nation. And it's a beautiful sight to behold.