Ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, you have no idea how pleasant it is to write a postmortem about a big victory over a team that I really love to beat. What makes it even more pleasant is that the Florida Gators were on a six-game roll and running away with the East Division, and the Kentucky Wildcats stopped them dead in their tracks. The Gators must now sing for their supper, as Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee and even Kentucky have long-shot hopes of tying them in the East. It' won't happen, but it's nice to make them sweat it out.
All that aside, the Gators came in and played the way they have played all year -- soft, but skilled. They made threes, they scored inside and out, and overall they played well enough to win. Kentucky just played better. The Gators will leave reasonably secure in the knowledge that they can't be caught in the East despite my comments above, but they are now a game behind the Alabama Crimson Tide, and in a dogfight for the SEC regular-season championship.
For the 'Cats, this was an important moment. Not only were they defending an undefeated record at home, but after having dropped their last game to the Arkansas Razorbacks, Kentucky had to be questioning their manhood. I know many in the Big Blue Nation who were.
But Kentucky rose to the occasion by outworking the Gators, and began to heat up from the perimeter, where they had been cool in the first half. Terrence Jones suddenly arrived offensively, and the Wildcats finally put up a working margin of 11 on a Darius Miller 3-point shot that proved to be too much for the Gators to overcome.
- Darius Miller has finally turned into the player we all thought he could be. If he had made several open shots and layups that he attempted, he might have scored 30.
It would be easy to give Darius the game ball, and I will, but he'll have to share this one. Josh Harrellson was a full grown man on the glass. 12 rebounds, half of them offensive, and 1 assist to go with 6 points. He was unquestionably as big a factor as Miller was.
- Doron Lamb finally returned to form, and defended much better today despite a few mistakes that must drive Calipari crazy.
- Brandon Knight played virtually the same game he always does, although he was a bit better defensively. He made half his shots, scored 18 points, and had 6 assists and zero(!) turnovers. That's darn good.
- Terrence Jones did not have a good offensive game, but he managed 9 big rebounds (2 offensive), two blocks and steal. Defensively, he was not as good as he has been.
DeAndre Liggins kind of went back to the quiet DeAndre we haven't seen for a while. But he made a huge, dagger three late in the
firstsecond half that effectively sealed the game.
- Jon Hood and Eloy Vargas were pressed into duty by foul troubles. Vargas played pretty well, Hood was serviceable but I thought he gave up on a couple of balls and got beat defensively on a play.
Kentucky did a lot of really good things today, and even though I thought the 'Cats did not play particularly well in the first half, they really turned it up defensively in the second half and played better. That defense led to offense, and after shooting only 33% from 3 in the first half, the Wildcats finished 50% from the arc. That will win you a lot of ball games.
But maybe the biggest thing of all is that Kentucky goes for long, long stretches without turnovers. They have been a terrific ballhandling team all year, and today they were again. That makes a big difference, and it keeps games close that a poor handling team might get behind big in.
Rejoice with me, Big Blue Nation. This one was very, very big. We needed it, and we took it. Vanderbilt is next, and revenge on the Commodores would be just as sweet.