This game was essentially a tale of two halves. The first half, Kentucky looked morose and listless on defense, and was able to come back with a fire in their belly defensively in the second half. Even though MSU stretched the lead to 11 midway through the second half, Kentucky battled back with a passion and had a chance to win the game in the end.
I think the Big Blue Nation has done a splendid job of keeping these difficult losses in the context of healthy players, and have been very patient with our new coach as he learns not only his players, but just what it's like to coach one of the Great Powers of college basketball. It's pleasing to Kentucky fans to see the coach and the team grow together, and I think that we have yet to see the best this team can be.
I have read several comments around the Internet asking those who have been critical of Crawford and Bradley's play to shut up about it, and point to the last two games as evidence of the faith we should have in them. To that, I would answer two things: #1, Crawford and Bradley have played well for exactly two games this season, in my opinion. More should be expected of two seniors in college. #2, analysis of basketball teams must needs include honest evaluation of the players on the team. Honesty requires me to state with conviction that these two guys have been a big disappointment to most of the Big Blue Nation so far this year. With that said, nobody could be happier to see that turn around than me, but I need to see a bit more. It wasn't as though they have been great their entire careers, and just suddenly had a letdown. But I am optimistic.
I am also encouraged with the improvement of Perry Stevenson, and the continued solid play of Mark Coury and Ramon Harris. Yes, Coury is very much lacking in talent, but Gillispie loves the effort he brings to the game, and so do I. I am a little unhappy with the effort I saw out of Patrick Patterson this game, but I understand that he is a freshman and was facing a freakishly efficient shot blocker in Varnado. Still, Patterson has shown maturity beyond his tender years up until last night, where he very much had a deer-in-the-headlights look that I was surprised to see. Hopefully, we have seen that for the last time. As surprising as it is to see myself write this, Patterson needs to be a good bit more physical in the post. He still plays like his opponents are high schoolers.
This is a loss that has a decent silver lining, though, because the overall effort we saw from the team, including the coach, would have been enough to win that game most of the time. You can't control injuries and you can't control the whistle, so you just have to find ways to win in spite of them, and we didn't quite get that job done. After all, those two MSU put-backs off free throws had nothing to do with how the game was officiated. If UK gets either one of those rebounds, we might be having a different conversation.
Gillispie finally showed some real, honest emotion, something almost totally absent from any game so far this season. He got a technical at exactly the right time, when Crawford was hacked on a reverse layup attempt that apparently failed to meet the "no blood, no foul" test. He also did a great job coaching the team back from a comparatively large deficit in the second half.
Reviewing the stats, a few things stick out. UK shot 92% from the line, MSU 52%. Wow. Kentucky shot the ball very poorly with only a 44% eFG%, but FT made up for that. MSU got 40 rebounds to UK's 33, and 14 of those were offensive. UK had an outstanding ballhandling game with only 10 turnovers (only 3 in the second half) and 7 steals (also 3 in the second half). When you get almost as many steals as turnovers, they tend to negate each other, and I am very pleased with that statistic. Personal fouls were a bit lopsided at 20 for UK, 13 for MSU, although maybe 4 or 5 fouls were committed in the last couple of minutes of the game, so it wasn't that much of a disparity.
All in all, it was one of those losses you hate, but you can live with. Florida is coming up, and that is a loss I simply cannot live with -- they have too long of a string over us and it needs breaking right now.