I've been reticient to compare this year's UK team to the 2003 SuffoCats (admittedly not that reticent), but in an 87-49 annihilation of South Carolina in Columbia this evening, the 2007 Wildcats were eerily reminiscent of the last truly dominant Kentucky basketball team.
From the opening tip of what would become Kentucky's 11th straight victory, a couple of things were clear: that Joe Crawford and his junior classmates were pumped for the ESPN showcase, and that the Gamecocks were utterly outclassed.
Poor Tre' Kelley. Left to fend for the entire program himself, the senior South Carolina guard did his best, on a bum leg no less. His first-half heroics kept the game close for a while.
But on this night, the Boys in Blue would not be denied. A clinic by Crawford in the first 20 minutes left the crowd hushed, save the loud Blue contingent. The emerging shooting guard was electric, nailing three shots from behind the arc in the first six minutes. Running mate Ramel Bradley was no less lethal, matching his friend with precision and no sign of a conscience.
With the Cats shooting the lights out, eventually, USC coach Dave Odom had no choice but to spread out, opening the lane for Randolph Morris to roam free. Morris finished the game with another double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, as well as another three blocks.
From tip to final buzzer, all the Cats were on in this one, save perhaps for Bobby Perry, whose slump is becoming more and more noticeable as his backups severely outperform the senior.
Even with the freshmen getting the bulk of the minutes down the stretch, the lead only ballooned. A flare up of Kelley's leg injury only deepend the Cocks' woes, ultimately resulting in an historic loss, the worst at home for the program since 1915 -- and four points worse than the one #1 Florida delivered over the weekend, a fact you can imagine Big Blue Nation was well aware of.
Crawford finished with 23 points after 17 in the first half, but the damage was done. For the game, the numbers were stunning: A slick 21 assists to 12 turnovers, many in the first 8 minutes; 63% from the floor; a 37-24 rebounding edge.
But for all their brilliance on offense, the defensive end is where the Cats really impressed. While South Carolina is by far the SEC's worst offensive team -- and on a side note, one of the worst I've seen in some time -- the Cats came out determined and focused.
The Wildcats swarmed the ball like no team since the '03 squad, forced USC into 27% shooting and never let up, even the reserves. While they did not force a shocking number of turnovers, they showed superior footwork in making the Gamecocks hit shots over extended arms, much like the Bogans-led Cats did four years ago.
In all, the game was as satisying a Kentucky win as there has been in two-plus years. While the grade of opponent has to be considered, don't let that stop you from drooling over the potential of this group.
With seasoning and some more confidence, the ceiling for this team is extremely high -- and much higher than the national media is expecting.