This was one of those games.
Most teams, like our orange and white neighbor to the south or red and black neighbor to the west, say that through gritted teeth and a frozen grimace. But not this Kentucky team. "One of those games" means the same thing this year as it did last year. Against notably inferior opponents, Kentucky has off games just like everyone else. The difference is, off games are a matter of degree, not result.
A hearty "Thank you" and "Happy Holidays" to the Mississippi Valley St. Delta Devils. They are road warriors in every sense of the word, playing hard and determined basketball against superior teams in the hopes of getting the warped floor of their arena fixed before their first home game. They did not come into this game with expectations of victory, but they did come in with hopes and dreams of a monumental upset. They represented the true test, and true reason, that college basketball is so wonderful -- they came in to a huge, hostile arena against a vastly superior foe and gave their all. Delta Devils, we salute you, not just for your Unforgettable coach, but for your dedication to the college game.
This game for the Wildcats was notable mostly for the fact that coach John Calipari got himself ejected from the contest midway through the second half. In an affair reminiscent of a Kentucky loss under Rick Pitino I once saw (I believe it was at Vanderbilt early in Pitino's career, perhaps 1991), Calipari went out to game official Mike Stewart at half court and chewed him out after the ejection for at least 30 seconds. That's what's called, "getting your money's worth." I am not sure what provoked the first Calipari ejection in his two years at Kentucky, but whatever it was, he was not wishing Stewart a Merry Christmas during his last seconds on the court.
The ejection was remarkable mainly for its rarity. Coach Cal has been thrown out of exactly one college or professional basketball game -- as head coach of the Massachusetts Minutemen, February 24th, 1996, almost 15 years ago. Pitino, conversely, got run pretty much once every couple of years at least while he was coach at UK. Calipari was clearly agitated at a call about 3 minutes earlier, perhaps a non-call on a Doron Lamb drive where Eloy Vargas was knocked to the floor. Only Calipari knows for sure, and whatever it was, it was consumed by the rest of the often-sloppy game and not really obvious to me.
- Mississippi Valley State team, for their hard but futile effort. They never gave up and never gave in to cheap shots or frustration.
Josh Harrellson. Game in, game out, good team, bad team. It doesn't matter to Josh. He gets in there, defends the best he can and rebounds. He did that today. His consistency is what makes me love him. Game ball.
- Brandon Knight did okay. He shot the ball poorly and took some ill-advised shots, but 4 assists and 2 turnovers is not a bad point guard line.
- Darius Miller had a fair game. If you can overlook only 3 rebounds, he had 3 blocks, 2 steals, 5 assists, made all five free throws and generally was pretty aggressive offensively.
- Doron Lamb had a decent game. He was excellent in the first half and got the start over Miller in the second. But in the second half he just disappeared into the background.
- I thought Eloy Vargas played well. Six rebounds is pretty good in 10 minutes, but we do have to remember the level of competition.
- DeAndre Liggins played well overall. I have seen him play better defensively, though.
- Terrence Jones got his averages, but this was not one of his better games.
Overall, this was not the Wildcats' finest hour, but they didn't embarrass themselves, either. They handily defeated an inferior foe at home, even though they played pretty unimpressive basketball in the process. With that said, they did not do a Tennessee or Louisville and throw the game away, or let the opponent take it to them. Kentucky took care of the glass, made enough shots, and defended well enough so that the outcome was never really in doubt.
In the end, that's enough, and even Coach Cal could be said to be off his game a bit for getting run in such a meaningless manner. Practice time is coming up, and perhaps Calipari can practice holding his temper while he puts the Wildcats through three-a-days over the holiday break.
It looked to me like everybody involved could use the practice.