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Kentucky – Texas: Big Boy Basketball

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This game was like a heavyweight championship fight. You can take your pick, but it reminded me of “the thrilla in Manila” between Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali. This game was a 15 rounder that wasn’t decided until the end.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

While the Ali-Frazier bout lasted only 14 rounds, Frazier was ready to go in the 15th, but referee Carlos Padilla called the fight after Frazier's trainer, Eddie Futch, signaled that Frazier was done because he couldn't see.  At the end of the ninth round, Ali told his corner, "Man, this is the closest I've ever been to dying." Texas put up a Frazier-like fight against Ali-like Kentucky. For a description of the thrilla and a linked YouTube video, go here. The game between Kentucky and Texas was just as brutal with each team landing significant punches. Although Texas lost, they fought until the end.

I'm not here to bury Texas, but to praise them. They went toe to toe with the Wildcats for the first 20 minutes and finished the game still punching and fighting. For me, this was a classic game.

One thing they (Texas) learned, though, was that you absolutely cannot take a break  on defense in any game against Kenutcky. After the Flagrant 1 on Jonathan Holmes, who knocked Karl-Anthony Towns to the floor, Kentucky seemed to wake up. While the announcers didn't see Holmes' right hand smack Towns in the face while the left hand was trying to block the shot, the referees saw it and called it. It doesn't matter if it was intentional or unintentional. It was a flagrant foul. After many playbacks, the refs called it unintentional, a flagrant 1, a decision I agree with.

What that foul did was spark the Cats while the Longhorns seemed to take a breather on defense And, Kentucky took advantage. Like a Big Blue Black Mamba, Kentucky struck with speed and the poison seemed to affect the Longhorns like a denrotoxin. First, Towns hit two free throws, then took the in-bound pass to hit a jump shot and then got a defensive rebound and fed Tyler Ulis for a jumper. The 6-0 run tied it up at 20-20. The two teams battled and scratched to a 26-26 tie to end the first half.

What we learned from the first half was that each team was taking body shots in the form of defense. While the Longhorns won the battle for rebounds 27-11 the Cats were forcing turnovers and led that category 13-6. Both teams seemed bothered by the other team's height and length. Texas shot 28% and Kentucky shot 32% for the half.

Kentucky came out in the second half very focused and Texas wasn't prepared for the 18-2 run that Kentucky made. Kentucky's heavy right hand was Willie Cauley-Stein and the left hooks were provided by Dakari Johnson and Trey Lyles. Texas recovered and hit back, closing to within five near the end of the game.

Cauley-Stein's numbers for the first half were 8 points, 6 rebounds , 1 block and 2 steals. In the second half he put up 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 steals. He played 17 minutes in the first half and 16 minutes in the second half.

Johnson's numbers for the first half were 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 8 minutes of play. In the second half his numbers were 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist in 11 minutes of action.

Did the game play out as expected from the four factors and the Vegas spread of 12.5 points?

As you can see below, Kentucky should've won three of the four factor with Texas winning only on eFG%.

Texas 1

It didn't quite come out as the indicators indicated. Kentucky came close to the spread in winning by 12 points, but broke even with Texas in the four factors.  When you compare the pregame numbers to the postgame numbers, you get a very different picture that shows how good Texas really is.

Texas 3

Kentucky may have lost this game at a neutral site and would've probably lost if the game had been played on the Longhorn's home court. I'm not sure Kentucky was ready for the size of Texas and I think it threw the Cats off guard. In the end, Kentucky's defense wore Texas down and the game was won.

So far, from what I've seen, Texas could make it to the Final Four along with Duke and Kentucky. Also, from what I've seen so far, I have no idea who the fourth team will be. Louisville? Wisconsin?  Arizona? Virginia? Or, the media darling Gonzaga?

Just my opinion, but I think Texas should move up in the polls despite their loss. While that won't happen, teams who play them better be ready to play at a high level.