Kentucky has had multiple games they have won comfortably that followed with a media headline of "Cats escape..." or something of the like. That headline would finally come to fruition as the Wildcats were taken to overtime by the Ole Miss Rebels and the ghost(s) of Marshall Henderson. The ‘Cats would escape with a 3-point victory, maintaining a spotless record, but gave other teams hope that Goliath could actually be taken down.
Predictably, the flood of media minions handing out wisdom of the "chinks in the armor" and the "blueprint to beat Kentucky" are in full force, but what did we really learn about Kentucky? This may not be a popular opinion, but I think we learned that this team is even better than we thought... I will explain.
Kentucky shot (literally) out of the gates 12-0 on the Rebels and looked like they were going to blow the doors off them and the -22 point Vegas line. It turned out to be fool's gold because after the hot start, UK got comfortable, went into cruise control, and mostly settled for three pointers and jumpers. This led to a tremendous end of the half drought, a supremely confident Ole Miss, and a halftime deficit.
Kentucky would come out firing again to begin the second half to score seven quick points but by this time, the damage had been done. The damage being that Ole Miss was not the Ole Miss that lost to Western Kentucky. On this night, Ole Miss was a contender. On this night Stefan Moody and Jarvis Summers were SEC player of the year candidates and no matter what the ‘Cats did, they were in for a fight.
The trio of Ladarius White, Jarvis Summers, and Stefan Moody would barrage the BBN; hitting big shot, after big shot, after big shot. Not just open jumpers either. They were hitting fall away corner threes; they were hitting runners; they were hitting shots where our defender was in their face to the point that they could probably tell Coach Cal the flavor of their gum. It seemed nearly hopeless to wish for a big defensive stop and with each waning minute, it just felt like tonight was Ole Miss' night.
On many nights, you just do not have it; the other team shows up with more energy, more confidence, and more execution. Coaches call these games teaching moments; they go back, break down film, and show the guys how to avoid those losses in the future. However, for the 2014-15' college basketball season... not this year, not this team.
Veterans Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in to make sure that fate would not become a reality. The trio would average 37 minutes of game time and Aaron scored a game high and season high 26 points while his brother Andrew would post an impressive 12 point, five assist, one turnover effort. Cauley-Stein has had better games, but in overtime, he was a beast and made big play after big play.
Despite Ole Miss doing everything it needed to for the upset... the ‘Cats and Big Blue Nation got to walk away with a well-earned victory.
In summation, I think we saw a team get pushed to the edge of an inconceivable loss. We saw a team land a first round knockout blow, only to see the hapless opponent pick themselves up and start hammering back. Instead of wilting, these Wildcats took a step back, composed themselves, and proceeded to counter attack. We saw a team gut out a win that every other team in the country would have likely lost.
Some teams need a loss to get their wake-up call; I do not think this team is like that at all. This team gets it. They are not above hard work. They are not above coming from behind or adjusting on the fly. They are not above deferring to their brother when it is not their night.
These ‘Cats are a mentally tough team that will not let a moment define them. Tuesday night taught us that not only can this team deliver a tremendous knockout blow, they can take one and STILL have the composure and ability to absorb it, compose themselves, and still come away victorious. When composing a list of must have traits for a special team, you have to put resiliency near the top and the win versus Ole Miss was a big step in proving this team's resilience.
The game reminded me of a great quote from a movie. It is from Rocky, and the scene is at the bottom of the article. I think it is a great mantra for this team too. Every win, and every narrow escape, this team is going to be increasingly scrutinized. Teams are going to be increasingly confident and game plan harder against us than any other team on their schedule.
Truth be told, the remainder of this year is going to be less about how hard we can hit, and more about how hard we can get hit, and keep moving forward... That is how winning is done.