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UK Basketball: Answering the Call

UK, 81-75 in overtime ... You knew it was going to be a tough game ... or at least, Kentucky fan, you should have known.  Traveling to Starkville, even when coach Rick Stansbury fields a mediocre team, and the 'Cats are loaded, is a tough "out."  But when the Bulldogs boast a team full of talent and fearless long-range bombers, as they do this year, getting out of the "Hump" without a bruised record is a tall task, indeed.  Factor in the 10,788 Humphrey Coliseum geeked-to-the-gills (record) crowd, and the chances of victory for this freshmen-led Kentucky (25-1, 10-1) contingent seemed to shrink exponentially.

And even though Mississippi State (18-8, 6-5) head coach Rick Stansbury made the gutsy move of benching his leading scorer (in SEC play) Ravern Johnson (12.4 ppg) for an "attitude problem," 6-8 Bulldog forward Kodi Augustus, he of the 14.3% three-point shooting accuracy in league play (4-28), fortuitously opted to channel Chris Lofton on this night.  The result being four made bomb attempts in seven tries (57.1%), resulting in 17 points for the eight-points per game scorer.

But despite the record road crowd, Augustus making shots he doesn't make in his most perfect hoop dream, as well as the 'Cats suffering from an 18-point deficit in made three-pointers (10-4), this fuzzy-faced Kentucky squad persevered.  A victim of their own bad shots, bad fouls, ill-timed turnovers, and staring in the face a seven point deficit with only three minutes remaining, UK prevailed, displaying once again why this team continues to surprise, enrage, and electrify the Big Blue faithful. 

But, before the 'Cats could win, they first had to play like newcomers to the college basketball scene ...

Four Minutes of Frustration 

With 7:15 remaining in regulation, the 'Cats were up 58-56, with the ball.  Not a bad spot to be in, but misfortune was preparing to make an unannounced visit to the boys in blue:

  • A Patrick Patterson turnover led to a three-point play for the fouled Jarvis Varnado, score it 59-58 MSU. 
  • On UK's ensuing possession, John Wall missed a jumper, and DeMarcus Cousins was whistled for a foul on his scramble for the offensive rebound.  On the other end, Jarvis Varnado dropped in two points (off his own offensive rebound), making the score 61-58, MSU. 
  •  Daniel Orton answered with a dunk at the 5:03 mark; 61-60 MSU. 
  • On MSU's next possession, Orton fouled Kodi Augustus on the interior resulting in two made free throws; 63-60 Bulldogs.
  • UK then proceeded to turn the ball over.  Mississippi State, in full attack mode, responded with an offensive rebound/tip-in for Romero Osby; 65-60 Dogs with 3:35 remaining.
  • Kentucky's John Wall, possibly showing a bit of freshman panic, jacked up a quick three-pointer, only to miss.  Darnell Dodson then fouled MSU point guard Dee Bost about 40-feet away from the basket.  Bost made both tries; 67-60 MSU, with 3:00 minutes remaining.  

Two turnovers, an ill-advised three-point shot, and a terrible foul.  All in four-minutes and fifteen seconds. 

At this point in the game, even the most ardent of UK fans could not be blamed for thinking, "This ain't our night" ... Simply too many mistakes at a critical juncture in the game.  But, UK coach John Calipari, pulling Dodson after his foul of Bost , and replacing him with DeAndre Liggins, might have unknowingly made his best decision of the night.

For Liggins, above all others, rewarded Calipari and Kentucky fans with ...

Three Minutes of Jubilation

As quickly as John Wall scampers from end to end, a reversal of fortune of game-changing proportions fell from the Mississippi sky:

  • The newly inserted Liggins, off a post feed from Cousins, and without hesitation, absolutely nailed the open-wing trey, pulling UK within 67-63 with 2:44 remaining.
  •  On the other end, Patrick Patterson blocked the Osby shot at its apex.
  • John Wall sped to the offensive end, feeding Eric Bledsoe for a UK layup; Rejoice BBN, it's 67-65 MSU, and the 'Cats were surging with 2:06 left in the game.
  • At the 1:49 mark, Dee Bost turned the ball over.  Liggins then missed a three-pointer, but Patterson grabbed the offensive board, and fed Wall for another missed trey try.  Still 67-65 MSU, but with only 1:26 remaining.
  • MSU's Barry Stewart, made to drive by the solid defense of Liggins, had his layup attempt blocked by Cousins.  Liggins snagged the block with :57 left on the clock.
  • Kentucky then ran 18-seconds off the clock before Liggins found a wide-open Patterson 10-feet away from the basket, on the baseline.  Swish went the ball, and tied became the score; 67-67 with only :39 seconds remaining.
  • Barry Stewart, MSU's best SEC three-point shooter, gathered the ball as the clock ticked under 10 seconds, but UK's DeAndre Liggins, long-time resident of the Calipari doghouse, gave Stewart no space in which to operate.  The resulting forced three-point shot needed divine intervention to tickle the twine.  But this night, the basketball gods smiled on the 'Cats.

An elusive three-pointer, two blocked shots, and two instances of great defense by DeAndre Liggins, all in the final three-minutes, brought Kentucky back from the brink of loss No. 2.  Propelling to the 'Cats into an overtime dominated by Big Blue. 

In Spite Of ...

All of the mistakes, miscues, and missed three-point shots, Kentucky, the third youngest team in the country, found within themselves a way to win the ballgame. 

In spite of being outscored in second chance points by a 22-18 margin (although the 'Cats snagged 18 offensive boards to MSU's 12), Kentucky found a way to win.  In spite of making only 42.6% of their field goal attempts, Kentucky found a way to win.  In spite of turning the ball over six more times than the Bulldogs, Kentucky found a way to win.  In spite of making only 21 of 31 free throws (67.7%), Kentucky found a way to win.  In spite of  MSU making 10 treys (from points beyond where one should be guarded), to their own four, Kentucky found a way to win.  In spite of taking four less shots than Mississippi State, Kentucky found a way to win.  In spite of playing in front of the most hostile crowd of the season, Kentucky found a way to win.

But how?

By making 51.9% of their second-half shots, compared to MSU's 41.2% final frame accuracy.  By turning the tables on the nations top shot blocking team, and swatting 12 MSU attempts, to only two for the Dogs.  By grabbing 47.4% of their own misses, and allowing MSU to snag only 27.9% of their own errant shots.  By pushing back the self-defeating play in that most frustrating four minutes, and responding as UK is supposed to respond; With self-assured shot-taking, determined defense, and yes, a little luck ...

But, luck played no part in John Wall's seven second half assists, or Patrick Patterson's 19 points and 10 rebounds.  Luck played no part in DeMarcus Cousins' seven offensive rebounds (14 overall boards), to go along with 19 points and three assists (two of which led to three-point baskets).  Luck played no part in the outstanding performances of Darius Miller (nine points on 3-6 shooting), and DeAndre Liggins (six points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 25 minutes).  Even though we all know it takes a little luck to conjure up victory, as one snatches the "W" from the death-grip of defeat, Tuesday night in Starkville, the boys wearing good-guy white imposed the will of the Commonwealth through clutch play-making, and defensive perseverance.  No luck required.

As this team goes forward, Saturday to the architectural curiosity known as Memorial Gym to face Vanderbilt, they should take with them the knowledge that despite their shortcomings, and their youth, they possess the will and ability to overcome transgressions.  This knowledge should, in turn, encourage confidence.  Confidence in knowing when the team needs someone to step-up, as they did against Mississippi State, DeAndre Liggins, Patrick Patterson, Darius Miller, or more ironically, DeMarcus Cousins, will answer the ringing phone. 

MSU Malcontents 

I encourage all UK fans to not allow a few criminals to unnecessarily spoil ones opinion of the Mississippi State faithful.  Of the nearly 11,000 fans in attendance, mercifully, it was only a few misguided miscreants who nearly ruined the evening, and the tremendous effort by the hometown team.  

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!