Kentucky fans have been waiting all season for a game like this. Despite that, I know there are some who just consider the competition inadequate to make any conclusions of import about how it went, and there's some justification for that position. The Georgia Bulldogs had a starter and significant backup injured, they were playing on the road, and the stars just weren't aligned for them to be very competitive in this game.
Having said that, I thought Georgia gave a good effort for as long as their personnel would permit. They are not the most talented team in the SEC, they are by no means the brawniest or toughest. But the Bulldogs are well coached, and gave a fine account of themselves until about 7 minutes into the second half when things started to go Kentucky's way for good.
But this game wasn't just about wearing down Georgia, it was about coming together as a team. I saw notable foul-line huddles, a lot of sharing the ball, and a whole lot less one-on-one than I have seen from this team all season. I think that's significant. Your mileage may vary; but I would point out that despite Kentucky's prodigious individual talent, basketball is a team game, and only good teams win the NCAA Tournament.
I have already noted the better team play, and that needs no exposition. If you failed to notice that, I refer you to Abraham Lincoln's admonition: "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
The ball movement in this game was better than it has been all year.
Kentucky is learning to handle the zone, and I was convinced Mark Fox wouldn't play it — he rarely does. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that Georgia was not very proficient at it, so there's that.
I loved seeing this team actually act like a team and not a collection. To me, that's simply the most important thing to take away from this game.
11 blocks as a team is awesome. Yes, one player had most of them, but I think it was a great team effort.
Kentucky got outrebounded on the offensive glass, but not by much. Same on the defensive glass. If I have a criticism of this game, it's the rebounding.
Free throws: 80%. I'm feeling pretty vindicated right about now with my confidence this would come around.
For the second game in the last three, Kentucky was very efficient offensively.
5-12 3-point shooting. That is a great line for Kentucky — not too many, and a good percentage.
Stats courtesy of Kenpom.com
I originally thought that either Willie Cauley-Stein or Julius Randle would win the game ball, but on review, I think Aaron Harrison deserves it. He shot the ball great, and had perhaps the quietest
1815 points ever. He made all his free throws, had 3 assists, and didn't turn the ball over one time. Game ball.
Willie Cauley-Stein had a great game. He blocked 6 shots, had 6 steals, and was terrific all around. Great to have the big fellow back in form, and make no mistake — this is exactly his form.
Julius Randle really played great. 14 points and 9 rebounds doesn't sound like much, but he was so much better tonight at getting rid of the ball at the right time instead of trying to force the play. It was so gratifying to see, and he was his usual beastly self on the glass. He made a couple of errors, but this version of Julius Randle is the version that could just lead us to #9.
Andrew Harrison was fine. He had 5 assists and 3 turnovers. His scoring was incidental. It wasn't a great game, but he played fine defense on Charles Mann, a very tough matchup for him.
James Young was good, not great. He didn't rebound very well, although he did shoot it pretty well.
Alex Poythress was excellent again. This guy is stealing my heart, and I am so happy to see him play like this.
Jarrod Polson was also very good. He made one high-difficulty layup and settled the team down as he always does. This kid is a big factor in Kentucky's improved play, although many will not recognize his contributions.
Dakari Johnson did again what he always does — he provides a tough post presence and a scoring threat. He didn't rebound particularly well today, though.
Derek Willis had an excellent game in only six minutes. More, please, Coach Cal. This kid is absolutely the best wing passer we have by a mile. He made a beautiful left-handed post entry to Poythress that led directly to a basket.
Dominique Hawkins should have gotten more minutes in this game. Marcus Lee also.
Jon Hood was great in clean-up minutes with an assist and a basket.
Look, I know Georgia wasn't a good team today; they were missing two critical players and I get that. But Kentucky played well regardless of the opponent. They did a lot of things technically well to the point that the skill of the opponent wouldn't have mattered much. Defensively, they were still lacking intensity, but it is better; I see it game by game.
Now, we start on a road trip on Tuesday to LSU that will define this team. LSU is a big team with quick guards — built to give this Kentucky team trouble. Missouri is less physically intimidating but more skilled. These next two games will probably be the ones that define our seed in the NCAA Tournament to a large extent, even though there are plenty of important ones after that. You have to walk before you can run.
So savor the strides made in this game, but demand that they be repeated before you buy in totally to this group. They may be very good, even good enough, but it's not yet time to pronounce them ready for a run.