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Kentucky 103, Lamar 61: Post Mortem

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The entire Big Blue Nation anxiously awaits word about the condition of Ramon Harris tonight, who suffered a blow to the head when he collided viciously with Michael Porter in tonight's game with Lamar University.  As of this writing, no further word is available other than that the initial tests to Razor Ramon have been positive.  We cannot breathe easy yet, but so far, so good.

Props to the Lamar Cardinals for coming in and playing hard tonight, absent three of their better players.  Lamar has been very successful so far this year, and my guess is, that success will continue despite the lopsided nature of this game.  They are a very sound basketball team and did a lot of good things tonight, but they just ran up against a highly motivated and more talented Kentucky team.

While we await word on Harris' condition, let's see what we can take away from tonight's game.  I apologize, first of all, for the lateness of the report, but my wife and I are both suffering from a bad cold we brought home with us, and that has made normal life rather more difficult than usual.  I am also aware of the oddity on the blog that has created two open game threads.  The servers were undergoing maintenance tonight, and I can only assume that is partially responsible for the problem, but rest assured that I have identified the issue to the technical team and they will be dealing with it as soon as possible.

But with all that aside, here are my takeaway's from tonight's action from the perspective of the players:

  • DeAndre Liggins was outstanding in every way.  Liggins was 6-6 from the floor with seven rebounds, four assists and two turnovers, a block and a steal in 27 minutes of action.
  • Perry Stevenson's line looks nice, but he had only 4 total rebounds in sixteen minutes.  Stevenson has been gradually disappearing from the team lately.
  • As Stevenson has faded recently, Josh Harrellson has risen.  Tonight he had 12 points including 2 three-pointers in 24 minutes of action, along with 7 rebounds.
  • Darius Miller got back on track tonight including three very nice assists and a solid floor game.  Only three unsightly turnovers marred an otherwise very strong performance.
  • Kevin Galloway saw his first extended minutes of the season, going 0-3 from the field but carting 5 assists and only 1 turnover.  That had to bring a smile to Billy Gillispie's face.
  • Patrick Patterson got the ball early and often tonight, and his line reflects that -- 11-12 from the field for 31 points, 3 assists and 3 turnovers.  The only troubling statistic are his three measly rebounds, which simply will not do.
  • Jodie Meeks had a solid 19 points tonight, but the really outstanding part of his game were the six assists vs. only one turnover, a complete reversal from his recent games with respect to ball handling.
  • Ramon Harris was on his way to a monster, career game before his injury.  In only six minutes, Harris had five points, 3 assists and zero turnovers.  I pray that his injury is minor, and not just because Razor Ramon gets better with every passing moment.

All in all, the players had good games and did some very nice things out there.  It was far from a perfect game, but the team really brought the defensive intensity early and got up huge on Lamar, putting them away early and convincingly, which brings me to my remarks about overall team play:

  • The execution tonight, particularly in the first half, was a thing that had to warm the cockles of every Kentucky fan's heart.  Sharp passing, tough defense and solid ballhandling all together at the same time are something we simply have not seen even once this year -- until now, at least for one half.
  • The running game tonight was by far the best I have seen from a Kentucky game since 2004.  It was something we all suspected that UK could do, and even though the foe tonight was athletically overmatched, it was nice to see it return.
  • Twenty-five assists and sixteen turnovers.  Folks, it doesn't get much better than that.  That's called sharing the basketball.
  • Seven steals as a team is not very impressive.  Steals are a stat that Kentucky has lagged in all year, and they continue to do so.
  • Only eight offensive rebounds would normally be another cause for concern, but UK shot 64% from the field, so not a lot of OR's were available.
  • UK allowed 13 OR's, and that is a cause for frustration.  There is no excuse for that given Kentucky's advantages in size and athleticism.
  • UK shot 50% from the three-point arc, while giving up only 16%.  The part I really like is the improvement in 3-point defense against a good shooting Lamar team.
  • UK shooting 80% from the charity stripe tonight continues to impress.  Earlier in the year, I worried that free throw shooting might suffer due to all the new faces.  It seems those concerns were unfounded after all.

Overall, this was the kind of game that makes me think that the team has carried the lessons they learned in Las Vegas back to Lexington with them, and that is a very good sign.  Tonight, we got a taste of just how good this team can be when hitting on almost all cylinders, and ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, that taste was pretty much delicious. 

I am not ready to anoint UK as a national title contender or even the odds-on favorite to win the SEC, but what we saw tonight is a team making noticeable improvement from game to game, from week to week.  That is really all you can ask, and right now, it feels like my intuition that this UK team turned a corner in the Las Vegas Invitational was more right than wrong.  Despite that, it will take continued improvement to really put to rest the lingering doubts from the Gardener-Webb and VMI games as to how far the program has come in the last two years and in what direction, but there is no doubt that right now, this team seems to solidly on course to reach many of the objectives we had all hoped for this year.

The evidence of the eyes suggests that Gillispie's mild and somewhat controversial reaction to Liggins' insubordination in Sin City was exactly the right prescription to cure the ills we had seen in DeAndre's game up until this point.  It is always hard to figure out how young players will react to adversity, and it is often possible for a coach to magnify the impact of that adversity on both the player and team by hewing too closely to conventional wisdom.  Sometimes gambles like Gillispie made in his handling of Liggins pay off and sometimes they don't, but if this game is any indication, Gillispie may have hit a jackpot in Las Vegas by rolling the dice instead of making the safe and obvious play.

That's all for tonight.  We'll have more, as always, tomorrow.