I knew the 49ers were going to be tough. I didn't know they would be quite that tough.
Great job by Coach Dan Monson and the Long Beach St. 49ers. I expected the Kentucky Wildcats to come out a bit flat, and they did just that. The 49ers looked like they expected it, too, and started making big shot after big shot. This was a lesson in why, when faced with games like this near the holidays, you have to keep the team focused. Fortunately for Kentucky, the 49ers just didn't quite have enough left in the tank. But they gave the young Wildcats a lesson in heart.
I confess, I was really upset after the first half -- the defensive energy was low, the execution was poor, and Kentucky was losing the battle of the boards. It was the perfect storm, but it was largely caused by the fact that three of the Wildcats' starters were in foul trouble.
But even with most of their firepower out and energy low, the Wildcat reserves kept after it. Josh Harrellson made a big shot and a couple of good defensive plays for which Calipari rewarded him with significant minutes in the first half. DeAndre Liggins provided some much-needed energy off the bench, and even though Kentucky wound up going into the half tied, you felt like they were fortunate to be there.
But it wasn't good fortune, it was hard work by the reserves that got that job done. They couldn't seem to score and they didn't execute well, but they did manage to do enough to keep the game from getting into a bad place, and that is just what you want your bench players to do -- hold the fort down until the cavalry arrives. And arrive it did, in the second half.
More afer the jump.
Even the second half wasn't a thing of beauty, but with the starters back in the game, it seemed that it would be just a matter of time until the 49ers wore down, and ultimately, that turned out to be the case. The final margin of 13 points was not indicative of the game, which was single digits until about the 8:00 mark in the second half, when Kentucky began to pull away.
- Once again, the 3-point defense stank. It stank. We allowed 44% from the arc.
DeMarcus Cousins had two fouls (at least) that he didn't deserve. No wonder he had a chip on his shoulder the whole game. And at the end of the game, he had a double-double.
- John Wall really wasn't himself. He got 19 and 5, but he looked ordinary, even mortal.
- Patrick Patterson played great. Double-double, shot almost 60%. What more can you ask?
- Eric Bledsoe ... struggled. He looked not quite whole. He had no legs in his jumper, he seemed discombobulated, he just wasn't all there -- for most of the game. But when it really mattered, he came back. That's hard to do.
- Ramon Harris was great. Just great. He defended, he ran the floor, and he stabilized the team. He didn't score a lot, but he really helped keep the ship from foundering.
Calipari impressed me, a lot. He was active when he had to be, and calm when it was called for. He kept Cousins' head in the game, so that when the time came for him to go back in, Big Cuz was ready. He took charges. He dove after balls, he scored, he rebounded, and he emoted -- the right way.
Calipari changed the game when the 'Cats really needed it, trapping the wing at every opportunity and putting in a full-court zone press at the same time. Those two moves took the legs from the 49ers, and energized the 'Cats, making the game look like an easy victory when it wasn't easy at all. Kudos to Coach Cal.
For a while, I thought the 'Cats might actually falter. Silly me. This is a team for the ages, and what we are seeing right now is just a shadow of what we will see later this year. The thought of that excites and energizes me, makes it hard to wait for the next game.
But wait we must. Merry Christmas, Wildcats. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but when I look at 13-0, that sure looks beautiful to me.