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Kentucky at South Carolina -- Raising the Titanic

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I woke up this morning with the strangest feeling of normalcy.  As of right now, I am of the opinion that Kentucky has played itself into an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, despite the fact that the possibility of that seemed as remote as the planet Pluto only six weeks ago.  Yet despite all the, "No way Kentucky gets in" comments from Jay Bilas and others, I think you will find that most people are deserting that position like it was the Titanic.  Speaking of the Titanic, I recently came across an article that compared the possibility of Kentucky making the NCAA tournament field to the Titanic coming to the surface.  Interesting metaphor.

South Carolina clearly did not bring their best last night.  Perhaps it was the emotion of senior night and Dave Odom's last game, or perhaps they were just weary of a long season with little to look forward to except major changes.  Sometimes, inevitability is a tremendous weight, and for whatever reason, South Carolina simply failed to fire last night.  I never got the feeling that Kentucky was in serious danger of losing that game, even when the Gamecocks made a run and got it down to five in the second half.

Of course, a lot of that was due to Kentucky doing what it does -- smothering half-court defense and excellent shooting.  Joe Crawford finally had a night I had been expecting from him all year, and he exploded for 35 points, about 10 of them in an unconscious stretch in the second half that, but for a missed 30 footer at the end, was almost as amazing as Tayshaun Prince's five threes against North Carolina in Rupp Arena some years back.  I don't think Gillispie was very happy with that last shot, but after the 28 footer that he swished the possession before, who can really blame joe for thinking he was momentarily possessed by the Wildcat spirit that powered Tayshaun's amazing game?

As well as Joe played, I thought Ramon Harris deserved the game ball.  He simply made Devan Downey disappear, and did so despite a quickness advantage by Downey that is almost too great to be measured.  Harris was simply relentless guarding Downey, and the amazing point guard got very little done.  Then there was Ramel Bradley, who quietly managed to score 20 points and played another fine basketball game.  Even Michael Porter contributed with solid play.  Not only that, Porter apparently played several minutes with a separated shoulder that he simply didn't tell the coaching staff about until after the game. 

It's stories like this that are causing this particular UK team to become perhaps them most loved group since the Unforgettables.  I know this gets bandied about a lot, but the Cats have had nothing in recent history that could even remotely be compared to that legendary team, and with the hole these guys started out in and the injuries they've suffered, there is no other team in Kentucky history that more resembles that legendary group.  Kentucky's grit has fueled the imagination of fans around the Commonwealth, and that feels really good after we were all gnashing our teeth in December.

A quick perusal of the game statistics shows that Kentucky had a remarkable 65% eFG% and held USC to only 44.1% eFG.  Given that, you would think the Cats blew the Gamecocks out of the water, but Kentucky turned the ball over, as it usually does, and gave the Gamecocks an astonishing 21 more attempts at the basket.  Think about that -- you are playing a guy one on one to 10 by ones and you give him 5 extra shots -- how many of those do you think you'd win?  That just further illustrates the remarkable defense Kentucky played last night.

Kentucky did have an edge on the glass, although the Gamecocks came away with 12 offensive rebounds, doubling up the Wildcats.  Derrick Jasper continues his outstanding rebounding with seven, and three blocks to go along with them.  Although he only scored a couple of points, Jasper continues to make himself felt in every game.  Perry Stevenson claimed six rebounds and two blocks, and only two points.  We see here that third scoring options are very hard to come by with this UK team, and despite their great games against Tennessee, Jasper and Stevenson cannot be relied on to do it every night.  Then again, when you have two guards scoring 55 of your team's 71 points (77% of the total points) and shooting 53%, you don't need that much out of everyone else.

Great win by the Wildcats.  Next up, the Florida Gators, owner of a 7-game winning streak against the Cats.  While I believe UK is definitely in the tourney now, losing to the Gators could change that calculation for the worse.  But for now, let's celebrate this big win, and an 11-4 record.