Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kentucky 68 - 75 Duke (Atlanta, Ga.)

I spent most of this game thinking about how Coach Calipari's other UK teams would have done against this Duke team at this point in the season.

I thought last year's team would have beaten Duke by about 10 points.

I thought the 2011 team would have lost by about 12.  (Remember when UConn beat us 84-67 in the Maui Classic?)

I thought the Wall/Cousins team would have taken Duke right down the wire -- or maybe won -- unless Cousins got ejected from the game.  (I thought there was about a 60 percent chance that would have happened, given how Duke is constantly pushing, shoving, and flopping.)

So given the obstacles they faced tonight, I thought this performance was pretty good.  Kentucky was in a dome, they had no point guard, this was only their second game ever, and they were going up against a canny team that is incredibly well-coached.

Still, UK had some real problems.  The Cats had no answer for Seth Curry, who went for 23 points and scored several huge baskets down the stretch.  They continue to struggle against physical centers, as Mason Plumlee went for 18 points.  Wiltjer was almost completely shut down by Duke (he finished with only 5 points).  And with the score tied at 37-37 early in the second half, and the young Cats feeling pretty good about their chances, they were unprepared for the big Duke push -- a stretch of almost perfectly executed offense and hard-nosed defense that resulted in a 21-7 run and a 58-44 lead.  I knew the Big Push was coming -- but of course, I've been watching Coach K's teams for much longer than most of our guys have been alive.

At this point -- with the game pretty much out of reach and embarrassment on the horizon -- I got very interested.  To be honest, I never thought we had much of a chance to win this game -- Duke is almost unbeatable early in the season and we have a long way to go.  But I did want to see how our new guys would react to adversity.  We haven't really gotten much of a feel for these players yet.  With the possible exception of Noel, none of them have the obvious charisma of guys like Wall, Cousins, Davis, and Kidd-Gilchrist.  They had shown flashes of talent, but you wondered whether they were mean enough to fight back in the face of adversity.

They did OK.  The big deficit seemed to take the pressure off of them -- and I'm sure Duke eased up somewhat as well.  Anyway, the Cats suddenly went on a 17-6 run that showed some great potential.  Alex Poythress had a great game, ending with 20 points and 8 rebounds.  (I have a feeling Poythress will go for 30 at some point this year.)  Archie Goodwin showed that while he's not much of a point guard, he could be a great two-guard -- he had 16 points and 6 rebounds.  And Noel looked much better than he had against Maryland, finishing with 16 points and 8 rebounds, and keeping Plumlee in foul trouble the whole game.  (Plumlee actually committed about 8 fouls tonight, but the officials only called five -- and they didn't call the fifth one until the game was out of reach).

Suddenly, with only 2:31 left in the game, the Cats were down 64-61, and they had the ball.  With the Cat fans pleading for a score, Julian Mays took a three-pointer to tie the game.  If it had gone in, I think this report would have been very different.  And Mays had just made a three-pointer a few minutes before, so the shot didn't bother me.  But he missed, and Duke got the rebound.  Curry drew a foul, made two free throws, and Duke was up 5.  The Cats responded with a Poythress layup to make the score 66-63.  Then, with 1:13 left, Curry drove into the lane, got Noel into the air with a great fake, and swooped around him for a layup.  The Devils never looked back after that.

It always hurts to lose to Duke, especially since this may be the last time we ever go up against Coach K.  Nevertheless, this was a pretty strong performance for a young team playing only its second game.  Duke will win a lot of games this year, and will be in the hunt for the national championship.  If this UK team improves at the same rate some of our other teams have done, it will also be very dangerous in March.

In the meantime, I'm ready for the Cats to play some home games.


  1. A lot of very promising, dutiful freshmen who ultimately become dependably productive juniors and can't-imagine-what-we'll-ever-do-without-him/her seniors go through sophomore seasons where it appears they are the last ones to realize they can actually excel at college basketball. It's like some wilderness/wandering experience.

    I suspect that Coach Cal or one of his assistants had a conversation on the flight home with Kyle Wiltjer last night that--sorry, bud--UK really can't afford for his sophomore wilderness season to last much beyond Christmas, if that long.

  2. By the way:

    W. Kentucky 74 - 54 Austin Peay

    I'm starting to get very excited about Western's chances.