Do you believe in moral victories? If you do, then you know what you saw last night during Kentucky’s 89-84 loss to Kansas. But if you don’t, maybe this will enlighten you.
Going into last night’s game, Kentucky was roughly a 6-point underdog (depending on which sportsbook/oddsmaker you use) with three of their four big men OUT due to injury or ineligibility while facing one of the best big men in the country.
The Wildcats also have what’s pretty much an entirely new roster, with Adou Thiero and Antonio Reeves the only two significant contributors returning from last year’s team.
Combine all of that, along with the fact that Kansas is the No. 1 ranked team in the country, and what were your expectations for the outcome of last night’s game? Compare what your expectations were to what you saw, and my guess is you’d be impressed with the Wildcats.
Thiero played out of his mind, hustling at both ends of the court and (somehow) playing bigger than his 6’8 frame. He was skying over Kansas players taller than him and ripping away rebounds as well as throwing down put-back dunks off of misses.
Though Rob Dillingham’s second half was a bit of a mess, he was the hottest guy in the arena during the first 20 minutes of the game to give Kentucky a lead at halftime.
Reed Sheppard was calm, cool and collected while also crafty as anyone on the floor. Somehow he hardly ever looks/plays like a freshman, but instead has this veteran presence about him that you simply can’t teach. He was a difference maker at both ends of the court and found a way to make an impact despite being in the midst of a crowded backcourt.
Tre Mitchell, Kentucky’s single big man that was active for the game, played big all evening going up against Dickinson. His stat line doesn’t jump off the page at you, but his effort and poise in the middle to mostly stay out of foul trouble was incredibly significant.
Now, there’s a reason why we’re talking about moral victories and not a victory. Some things did go wrong for the Wildcats last night. But you can find something that goes wrong in almost any game against a good team, let alone the nation’s top-ranked team.
Reeves, the team’s veteran leader, led all Wildcats with 24 points but was quite inefficient in scoring them — especially from the three point line (shooting 3-17 from behind the arc).
Kentucky’s highly-touted freshman duo of DJ Wagner and Justin Edwards combined for just five points on 1-18 shooting. While it’s impossible to expect every single player on the team to have a great game against the best team in the country, if a few of those shots fall then the conversation is probably different this morning. But they didn’t — and that’s okay.
The main takeaway from last night’s game isn’t the sub-par execution late in the game. It’s the fact this team likes playing together. You can see it... You can feel it. They’re only three games into the regular season and there’s a sense that they have played together for quite a while. They hardly ever turn the ball over. They’re almost always on the same page. They have each other’s backs and are incredibly enthusiastic with one another.
It’s a feeling that I’m not sure I can say I’ve felt with recent teams. Not to say Kentucky has had locker room issues in past years, but again this team just feels like they gel and have a chemistry that’s unusually advanced this early on in the regular season. So, combine their positive chemistry with the fact Kentucky was missing three of their four big guys to only lose by five points and you might just call last night’s outcome a moral victory.
Tweet of the Day
So proud of his effort at both ends last night.
They have to be more consistent.
Such an awful story.
He’s one heck of a prospect.
How confident are you in UK this weekend?
Is this the fix, though?
Tough break for Dallas.