Perhaps we can call it the "Holsopple Effect." It's that final rush at the end of the game, where our guys suddenly look stronger, their shots falling, their rebounding legs bouncier, while their guys look winded.
It doesn't always happen. Witness the Georgia debacle just over a week ago. But it does seem to be happening with more frequency. It was certainly on display Saturday against Arkansas.
After a dunk by Sonny Weems made the score 49-41 with 12 1/2 minutes to go, Kentucky erupted, led by Ramel Bradley. When it was all over, the Cats had blown past a visibly tiring Razorbacks to win, 82-74.
That's a 41-25 advantage in just 12+ minutes. Hogs center Steven Hill, who had abused Randolph Morris for 13 points to that point in the game, did not score again. By the time he huffed his way to the bench at around the 3 minute mark, you could see he was laboring. Much of that was due to the smaller lineup and fresher legs UK enjoyed.
Is it a coincidence that the Kentucky players seem stronger physically as the season has progressed and UK is in its first season with new strength guru Scott Holsopple? Hardly.
It does seem that the boys in blue are not as exhausted as their opponents this year, and the difference is in stark contrast to last year's February look, when the Cats were sporting T-shirts under their uniforms, the starters looked winded at timeouts in the first half and, unsurprisingly, close games turned into close losses.
But while conditioning is clearly improved, another factor is at play, one which gets less notice for its positive effect than for its negative (and generally temporary) one.
It has become a ritual for Big Blue Nation. Sometime in the first half half, UK coach Tubby Smith will bring in bodies off the bench, many times seemingly inexplicably. The theory would be that this tinkering buys the stars and key subs some time to catch their breathe. On certain occasions, it also seems to slow momentum, and on rare occasions actually swing it the wrong way.
But despite the collective gnashing of fans' teeth, the ploy also serves its purpose well, as evidenced by yesterday's (and traditionally, under Smith) strong finish. The big men are fresher, the guards more lively. Even though the final box score will often show no great disparity in minutes between UK's starters and those of the opponent, the on-court difference looks dramatic.
"I don't coach emotionally, and we want to play the game under control," Smith said after the win.
His coaching style seems to reflect this. He doesn't panic. And, with certainly some exceptions, this is how he has amassed many of his almost 400 career coaching wins.
Smith's oft-repeated refrain is that the most meaningless score in the game is the halftime score. As fans, we too often forget this.
It's understandable. The ebb and flow of a game -- even to earnest, knowledgeable fans -- drives us to question the coach. But he knows his players, his personnel and who is performing or not performing. There are obvious cases of ineffectiveness, such as Morris in the early second half on Saturday, but often it is the fans that are surprised when a player comes to the fore, not his coaches. While the postgame comments of "We knew he had it in him" appear to be coaching platitudes, they aren't always.
Yeah, it's not rocket science, it's basketball. But it still amazes me how often I'm reminded why -- in all my hoops wisdom, with all my commentary and energy and obsessing -- Tubby is an NCAA title winner and I'm a blogger.