Monday, January 27, 2020

Texas Tech 74 - 76 Kentucky (Overtime) (No. 2,308)

I don't like the SEC/Big XII Challenge.  There's really only two ways in can play out for the Cats.  If we get a home game, I'm not happy because I don't get that excited about beating any Big XII teams at home -- and of course it's a disaster to lose at home.  But the alternative is even worse -- we have an extra road game before a bunch of crazed fans at some program I don't like.  It's like having an extra road game in the SEC.  In 2016, we took a three-game winning streak into Kansas, and were up 57-49 with 14 minutes to go, only to lose in overtime after Kansas shot (I kid you not) FORTY-SEVEN free throws.  (We had 22.)  The Cats had FOUR players foul out in that game.  Two of the players who fouled out played less than 15 minutes each.  They don't mess around at the Allen Field House.

Two years later, we went to West Virginia, which was (of course) a complete madhouse.  With 17 minutes left to go, the Mountaineers were up 54-37, and the joint was rocking.  But West Virginia is not Kansas, and the Cats came all the way back, thanks to 34 points from Kevin Knox.  It was the best game I ever saw him play, and UK won 83-76.

So this year we drew a trip to Texas Tech.  All the Red Raiders did last year was fight their way to the National Championship game, where they lost in overtime.  This year they entered the game with a 12-6 record and the country's number-18 ranking.  They also had a sold-out arena in Lubbock, with folks paying up to $395/ticket.  And yes, they were going nuts.

This Kentucky team appears to do better with adversity, however -- they have losses to Evansville, Utah, and South Carolina, and wins over Michigan State, Louisville, and Arkansas.  So I was curious to see how they would respond.  The first half, I thought, was very well played on both sides.  The lead went back and forth throughout the half, and the Cats led 36-34 after Immanuel Quickly sunk a half-court shot at the buzzer.  Pretty good stuff.

And then things got even better.  The Cats came out very hot at the beginning of the second half, with led 50 to 40 with 14 minutes and 37 seconds to go.

But remember that part about adversity?  Once the Cats had a 10-point lead, they started wasting possessions.  Of course, their problems weren't entirely their fault.  Let's talk about the block/charge calls.  Back in the day, it was anybody's guess as to what would happen on a block/charge call -- unless Duke or UNC was involved, in which case they would get the call.  And that's how college basketball worked for many years.  But then the powers that be decided that they would put a little arc on the floor under the basket.  The idea was that if the defender was standing behind the arc, that is, right under the basket, it was an automatic blocking call.  In reality, of course, what has happened is that so long as the defender is outside of the arc, you pretty much have an automatic charging call.  Of course, that's not what was supposed to happen, but that's how most officials interpret the arc.  So now you have teams that are trained to jump out at the last minute to take a charge against anyone who beats his defender and is heading to the basket.  Last year, two of these teams -- UVA and Texas Tech -- played for the national title.  All hail the block/charge arc.

Now there's two ways to approach this development.  What I would do is get a bunch of guys who shoot threes, and then just shoot over all of the chaos in the middle of the court.  Of course, the Cats did that in 2016 -- and for most of the year they had one of their best offenses in history.  But in the second round against Indiana, Jamal Murray went 1-9 from three-point range, and the Cats were eliminated.

So Coach Cal prefers to grind it out.  You just keep attacking and attacking, and you force the officials to call fouls.  Of course, you still have to make the free throws.  In the 2018 tournament, the Cats lost by three points to Kansas State in a game where P.J. Washington went 8-20 from the line.  Last year, the Cats lost in overtime to Auburn in a game where they went 12-21 from the line.  (That loss hurts more every time they think about it.)  Nevertheless, this is the Coach Cal way -- don't back off, challenge the officials, keep attacking the basket.  And in a road game like this one, that will result in some major charging calls.

Plus, I have to say that the Texas Tech guys turned out to be some of the most egregious floppers I have ever seen.  I don't like defense-first teams, but I usually don't watch them very much.  So I tend to think of a team like Tech as a sort of hard-nosed, Bobby Knight type outfit.  In reality, I have rarely seen any team that played more to the officials.  Guys were constantly throwing themselves to the ground, or doing that thing where you snap back your head as if you've been hit.  It was really annoying, and I will pretty much be rooting against Texas Tech almost every chance I get from here on out.

Discombobulated by success, floppers, and a rabid Lubbock crowd, the Big Blue started to struggle.  With Kentucky up 61-53 and six minutes left, the Cats' offense fell apart.  Quickley committed a turnover.  Tyrese Maxey missed a jump shot.  Nick Richards made only one of two free throws.  Johnny Juzang made a turnover.  Nate Sestina missed a jumper.  Richards made a free throw -- and then Quickley was called for a lane violation to prevent him from taking another free throw.  This went on for awhile.  In almost six minutes of action, the Cats scored only two points.  The game was tied at 63 with 28 seconds to go.  Richards made one of two free throws to put UK up 64-63.  Then Tech made one of two free throws to tie the game.  Then Quickley missed a shot, and we were off to overtime.

The overtime was like a mini version of the game itself.  Kentucky quickly scooted out to a 72-66 lead, and then stopped scoring.  With the Cats up 72-68, Quickley was called for a charge.  (Meanwhile, on ESPN Jimmy Dykes kept talking about how the Cats should drive the ball, and not settle for jump shots.  At this point, I yelled at the TV, "How are they supposed to drive the ball if every drive results in a charging call?"  Then Hagans missed a layup on a weird play where he ended up too far in under the basket.  Then Sestina was called for a charging call.  Then Sestina missed a three-point shot.  Then Sestina threw the ball away.  And so, with 1:13 left, the game was tied at 72 and the place was in a frenzy.

But now the Cats were facing adversity, and the officials were under no more obligation to help Texas Tech, so things got better.  With 47 seconds left, Quickley was fouled, and his two free throws put UK up 74-72.  Tech came back down the floor with me screaming  "Don't let them shoot a three!"  Sure enough, Tech drove to the basket, scored a layup -- and drew a foul.  Now Tech could take the lead with the free throw.  Agony.

Then Tech missed the free throw -- Joy! -- only to grab the rebound after one of those wild plays where someone for Tech slapped the ball back out to the shooter.  Now Tech had the ball with 25 seconds left, but only 18 seconds on the shot clock.  They sent Terrence Shannon at the basket, where he was met by E.J. Montgomery.  This time -- finally -- the officials did not call a foul, and the shot missed.

And here we should talk about Nick Richards.  Richards had been the dominant player on the floor throughout the game.  He finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks.  He was at a different level from everyone else, and it showed.  Now he came over to grab the rebound with 10 seconds to go.  Ever since there were about 10 minutes left in the second half, the Red Raiders had hurled themselves at every loose ball.  This time it cost them.  A Red Raider crashed into Richards, sending the ball out of bounds, and sending Richards to the line.  I'll be honest -- I never really expect any UK big man to make a free throw.  But on the night, Richards was 11-14 from the line, including 5-5 in overtime.  He made both shots and the Cats were up 76-74.

But there were still 10 seconds left, and I was worried Tech would shoot a three for the win.  But Jimmy Dykes kept telling us that Tech wouldn't settle for jump shots, and he was right.  Davide Moretti had the ball for Tech, and he was driving straight at Richards -- hoping for a foul or a three-point play.  But Moretti had lost track of Ashton Hagans, and Hagans neatly reached in from behind and smacked the ball loose.  It bounced off of Moretti and out of bounds with 0.004 seconds left on the clock, and the Cats had a very difficult victory.

So I still don't like the SEC/Big XII challenge, but I'm very happy to have survived it for the third year in a row.  Now we just have to get through 12 more SEC games.


  1. I'm realizing my problem with UK basketball these days. Because no one stays long enough for me to get to know them I don't really have any feelings for the players. Because the teams are designed to make a one time shot at winning a national title, once that seems off the table I have no interest in the team. You've already laid out the case for why this team will not win a national title, so I have no interest. Once the NBA gets rid of the one and done rule I wonder if they way I look at UK basketball will change. There was a time when I went out of my way to watch games. That has now completed gone away. I only tune in now at end of the season. If I know players are going to be there for multiple years I wonder if my interest will return?

  2. I kind of think they're going to win a national championship this season. Nick Richards is getting better fast now, as one Calipari player tends to do per season, and the guards are good.

  3. By the way, the folks in Lubbock did a blackout deal for this game -- all the Tech fans, and the Tech team, were wearing black. Of course, they're free to do that, but it means that UK gets to wear white -- and the Cats are usually very tough to beat when they wear white. So I wouldn't have done that if I'd been Texas Tech.