The University of Alabama Crimson Tide came into Rupp Arena today with their best player down with an illness. That was very tough for them, but despite that, they played with courage and heart. However, it seems that this University of Kentucky team has finally found its identity, and it now looks very much like a slower version of Billy Gillispie's Texas A&M team last year.
This Kentucky team plays best at a very moderate pace, and the extremely tough half-court defense the Cats continue to play helps smooth out the offensive engine when they lose a cylinder or two, and early in the first half, it seemed like the offense was running on maybe three cylinders. But still, the Cats persevered, and after halftime it improved dramatically, allowing Kentucky to pull away from the depleted Crimson Tide at home.
I was a bit disappointed in the crowd today. As big a game as this was, the crowd did very little to lift up the team, especially in the first half. I know that Coach can't be too pleased with that, but he was very pleased with the effort and the defense judging by his post-game comments. He even took the blame for the sputtering offense, saying that he was too critical and left them in the wrong frame of mind before and during the game.
This was by no means the best Alabama has to offer, and I am very pleased we don't have to go down to Tuscaloosa this year. Hendrix would have likely made a big difference, and just as the injury/illness gods have taken games away from us this year (Houston, anyone?), this time, their impact was in our favor. I am sorry we didn't get to face the Tide full strength, but I'll take the win regardless of the circumstances.
Despite a rather pedestrian performance by Patrick Patterson and 4-13 shooting from the arc, the Cats managed to shoot an impressive 48.7% from the field for an eFG% of almost 54%. On the defensive side, they held Alabama to 37% from the field for a 41% eFG%. Even though Alabama shot an above average 67% from the free-throw line, UK continued it's excellent performance there, making more than Alabama attempted and shooting 77% as a team from the stripe.
There can be no doubt now that the Cats have turned a serious corner, and are now a genuine threat to win the SEC East. Tennessee's narrow escape at Baton Rouge in a very low-scoring affair and their loss at Kentucky should now provide the blueprint teams need to beat them. Tennessee, despite their athleticism and depth, is a very poor half-court team. Take away their breakneck pace, and they are vulnerable. Kentucky is now only one game out of first place in the East, and is now on a five-game winning streak, longest in the conference.
- The bad news out of today's game is that Ramon Harris has a hip pointer, and those things can take a while to recover from. It's possible he may be able to go for Vanderbilt, but we just don't know yet. My money would be on Ramon being out for Vanderbilt. Harris had another excellent game with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers.
- Perry Stevenson was simply huge. His line: 8 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist 1 steal 2 blocks and only 1 turnover. Stevenson is really helping us where we need it, and making the game easier for Patterson.
- Michael Porter shot the ball like a blind man facing the wrong way to day. Only one of his attempts would have gone in if the basket had been twice it's size. But he played tough defense, had no turnovers, and gave Ramel some time to rest. Given that Ramel had another huge game despite not practicing for 3 days, Porter really helped the cause.
- Derek Jasper still seems to struggle with the ball, but his defense and rebounding really help.
- Joe Crawford doesn't need to shoot three pointers to score. He played great today despite shooting poorly.
- If the Cats don't watch out, they are going to mess around and become a good basketball team.
- Winning at Vanderbilt on the road would change the entire dynamic of this SEC season, and the Wildcats will start getting national attention.
- Alabama's backcourt continues to make very questionable decisions. This has been a chronic problem with Alabama since Steele went down.
- 18 turnovers is better than 23. There was only a 5 T/O discrepancy. We can probably live with that.
- The Cats doubled up Alabama with 8 steals. We even had fewer fouls, possibly for the first time since SEC play began.
Overall, it was a great game by Kentucky. Great effort, especially defensively, and the offense is really coming around I can't say enough about how hard this team plays, and they are beginning to play smart as well as hard. Since we have yet to field a complete team, I have no idea how good the Cats can actually be, but it seems like game by game, step by step, they are raising their ceiling higher and higher.