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Vanderbilt at Kentucky -- Post game comments

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First of all, congratulations to the Vanderbilt Commodores for the kind of tough, never-say-die effort that we have come to expect from them.  They took our best shot, and almost came back to win the game.  In fact, I was to the point of despair when Shan Foster nailed that last three pointer of regulation with Joe Crawford right in his grille.  I was just sure we had nothing left in the tank.  Happily, I couldn't have been more wrong.

What a great victory for this beleaguered Kentucky team.  I can't recall being this happy about a basketball game since Kentucky-Duke in 1998, and that is a very long time.  I suppose we can thank our terrible start for the rapture many of us feel at the moment, but I don't really care right now.  I am ecstatic, and enjoying a well-earned glass of Maker's Mark over lots of ice.  It just seemed appropriate to celebrate a victory the same way I drown defeat.

Joe Crawford today did much to wipe away the criticism of him many of us have expressed.  Joe's play up until now was certainly worthy of criticism, but recently and especially today, he has been playing much better.  Against the Commodores, Joe Crawford played the most complete game he has ever played in 3+ years in a Kentucky uniform, and his defense against Shan Foster was a seminal moment in his up and down career.  Gillispie was effusive in his praise of Joe's defensive effort, and this is the first game I have watched in four years that I didn't criticize Joe for a bad shot.  The reason for that is that he simply didn't take any.  He did make mistakes, particularly ballhandling and decision-making, but they were mistakes of commission, which we can all live with.  In my view, Joe Crawford gets the game ball, because without him, Foster would surely have scored 30+ points.  Foster's shot is almost unguardable unless you deny him the ball, which is exactly what Crawford did.  His shot can't be blocked by anyone not 7' tall, and he is truly a phenomenal three-point shooter.

Patrick Patterson owned Andrew Ogilvy, and that is a fact.  He dominated Ogilvy completely in the first half, and for most of the second.  Ogilvy got most of his points on garbage baskets, and very few without the benefit of a broken play.  By the end of the game, Patterson was completely exhausted, but he still found the strength to run down and jump three feet above the rim to snatch down a huge defensive rebound on a Vandy miss.  Derrick Jasper had his best 3-point shooting game as a Wildcat, got seven rebounds, but struggled handling the ball with 1 assist and 4 turnovers.  Amazingly, Kentucky lost the turnover battle by one, but wound up winning the war. 

Kudos to Perry Stevenson for having his best overall game as a Wildcat.  Despite the fact that he did not score, he had a game high five steals, several of them at critical momentum-breaking moments.  Kentucky had an amazing 12 steals, the most I can remember since the days of the Suffocats.  Ramon Harris also had an excellent game, with only 1 turnover and 7 big rebounds.  And what about Mark Coury having his best game as a Wildcat against a serious opponent, having five boards, nine points on 4-8 shooting, two big steals and an assist.

I leave Ramel Bradley for last, because he showed the kind of heart we always knew he had, and this time, he just refused to lose.  Today, for the first time, despite numerous mistakes and several bad decisions, Ramel rose above it all and got the job done.  When Patterson was too exhausted to score, Ramel took the ball to the hole again and again with more success than failure, and provided much-needed offense when the team was struggling to find shots.  Yes, he took some bad ones and made some poor decisions, getting called for a walk in the back court late in the second overtime that could have cost us the game.  But Ramel never hung his head, and found a way to turn that negative into a positive.

This was the kind of gritty win that can turn around a season, and we can only hope that what we have seen is the beginning of the end of Kentucky's troubles.  Beating the 13th ranked and undefeated 'Dores in front of 24,000 cheering fans was the shot in the arm we needed to make Bearnaise sauce for our ribeye out of the eggs we laid in the non-conference season.  This win may not mean all that much to the rest of the nation, but to struggling Kentucky and its passionate fans, it means more than any game in a very long time.