This was another one of those games where serenity struck me like Cupid's arrow will strike tomorrow -- gently, but deeply.
The Tennessee Volunteers used every trick in the book to defeat the Wildcats today despite some significant injury problems. Their best player, Wayne Chism, was banged up and Cameron Tatum was on the bench in street clothes. But the Vols were having none of excuses, as Bruce Pearl trotted out a 3-2 zone defense, something the Wildcats have not seen all year. The 'Cats have seen plenty of 2-3 and even some 1-3-1, but a 3-2 was new, novel and effective. The Volunteers also took the air out of the ball and made big shots late in the shot clock, which gave them a chance to pull off the big upset, and deep into the second half, it looked like it might actually happen.
But the serenity that consumed me was there for a reason. I knew that it was unlikely that Tennessee could continue to make big shot after big shot. The Vols shoot the ball well, but not well enough to beat a team like Kentucky with one shot per possession, and offensive rebounds were almost always headed in Kentucky's favor. Not only that, the Vols were playing a shorter than normal rotation, and even though they never did put on their trademark press because of their short bench, it would have taken near perfect execution for them to pull this off. I was okay with a loss under that unlikely scenario.
As we all now know, their execution was very good, but far from perfect. More after the jump.
As I sit here enjoying a nice big tot of Four Roses Single Barrel and listening to the post-game show, waiting for Calipari's comments, I am pondering the fact that Kentucky continues to play surprisingly mature basketball for such a young team, with certain exceptions which we will get to later. But the raw talent and court presence of this team is almost like that of a senior-dominated team, and the last time I looked at a second-half deficit, however small, with near disinterest was during the era of the Suffocats.
This team is not at all like them, but they have that same ability to create a sense of the inevitable, and validate that feeling with remarkable aplomb. That's sweet. Anyway, here are my observations:
DeMarcus Cousins was waaaay to "up" for this game, and it worked against him. But he was a beast on the boards. He needs to lose the frustration, it gets in his way. All his missed free throws can be attributed to his highly emotional state.
- Game ball to DeAndre Liggins. I know Eric Bledsoe had maybe his best game of the year, but I'm going with intangibles on this one. Liggins changed the game when he came in, every time he came in.
- Another nice effort from Daniel Orton. He changed twice as many shots as he blocked, and even though he only got a few rebounds, he was responsible for UK players being able to get to several others.
- Darnell Dodson played, and he made one big shot and got a steal. But for most of the game, he was invisible.
- Darius Miller was invisible.
Perry Stevenson did some nice things, but had no impact on the scoreboard. His effort was terrific.
- We needed John Wall to score today, and he did. He turned the ball over too much, though.
- Patrick Patterson had a very good game, even if it was quiet. He was robbed on the goaltending call, that block was clean.
- Eric Bledsoe did really good work in the second half. In the first half, he was invisible.
- UK needs to quit trying to make the spectacular play. Just make the simple play, get off a good shot, and if it ends the possession, forget about it and get back on defense.
- Too many transition baskets for Tennessee tonight. Way too many.
- This was a great day for Kentucky basketball on many, many levels. ESPN Gameday, beating the highly-ranked Volunteers in a tough, physical game, being talked about on ESPN all day ... this was a great, great day for Kentucky basketball.
- The referees were awful -- on both sides. I guess it equalizes out, but it sure is frustrating, and I'm sure the Vol fans were frustrated, too.
- Great job by Calipari getting a better attack on the 3-2 at halftime. He took the blame for the first half, but he clearly made up for it in the locker room at halftime.
I am very pleased with this win. The Vols made it tough, but in the end, our superior talent, depth and health was the difference. Kentucky continues to win games, easy or tough, and some they make tough that should be easy. This wasn't one of them, though, and the 'Cats should be proud, particularly of their second-half effort.
By the way, I owe Ken and his lovely wife a round later on this month. I had under 10, and he had 10 or more. It will be a pure pleasure to pay off that bet.