"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." That's a famous quote from former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. He isn't known for his sage-like advice or his wisdom, but with this saying, he sounded like a prophet of old.
When asked to expound on what he meant, the former champ explained, "People were asking me [before a fight], 'What's going to happen?,' " Tyson said. "They were talking about his style. 'He's going to give you a lot of lateral movement. He's going to move, he's going to dance. He's going to do this, do that.' I said, "Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.'"
I found myself thinking a lot about this after I watched the shellacking that Kentucky took at LSU. John Calipari knew what was going to happen in Baton Rouge as far as the LSU bigs were concerned:
Calling the Tigers' front court one of the best in the league, Calipari compared to LSU's post players to Tennessee's, only longer with a better touch from the outside. Remember, Tennessee was one of the few teams this year that has physically overpowered the Cats.
"They're bigger and longer," Coach Cal said. "The advantage we had (over Tennessee) was, we were long. The advantage (Tennessee) had was strength. These guys are strong and they're big. They're not 6-7, 6-8. They're big."
There is no doubt that Kentucky worked on physicality and playing with toughness against the Tiger front court in the days leading up to the game. They knew what they were going to face in Johnny O'Bryant III and Jordan Mickey. There was a game plan in place.
And then they got punched in the mouth.
And, for the most part, the team went down on the mat in a crumpled heap. O'Bryant III had a monster game with 29 points and nine rebounds. Mickey had points and five blocks. The two guys that Kentucky knew they had to stop went off. The rest of the Tigers did as well. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, they circled and consumed the Wildcats while hitting shot after shot. It was a great performance by the home team.
Much has been made about the seemingly lackadaisical effort from specific players. Maybe they were just punch drunk. Maybe they are still reverting to AAU tactics when their backs are against the wall. Maybe they don't know what to do when another team/player challenges their talent and ability with a counter attack of hustle and heart.
Whatever the problem is, they better get used to games like the one they played in on Tuesday night. This is life on the road in the SEC. No quarter is given and none should be expected. LSU didn't care about high school accolades and recruiting service rankings. Neither did Arkansas. And neither will Missouri, Mississippi State, or Auburn, or Ole Miss, nor any other team that Kentucky will face on the road for the remainder of the season.
This is a reality that these young ‘Cats need to embrace. They should be past the point of needing to fight through adversity in order to learn from it. They've had plenty of those experiences already. Coach Cal needs another talking point. It's time to put up or shut up. March is closing in on them.
Kentucky can respond in one of two ways: 1). Get up off of the mat and continue to flail away, hoping to land some blows here and there; or, 2). Get up off of the mat, shake it off, get focused, readjust on the fly, and fight like hell.
The season is far from over, and the chance to have a special season is still in sight. But time is running out on this team. They will have another chance to prove their mettle in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday against a team that did something that the ‘Cats could not do: win on the road in Arkansas.
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