Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kentucky 71 - 83 Texas A & M

There's a reason why folks say it's better to be lucky than good.  Kentucky played pretty badly on Thursday night in Nashville, but they were lucky and Vandy missed lots and lots of shots.  Today, on their home floor, the Cats were much better.  They played hard.  They went from 3-17 from three-point range against Vandy to 6-18 today.  They even made 17-22 free throws, which may have been their best performance all year in that category.  They were out-rebounded, as usual, but only by 32-27.

But, man, were they unlucky.  Because today, Elston Turner, a guard for A & M who averages 15.5 points per game, played one of the greatest games I have ever seen at Rupp Arena.  There are certain shots that college players virtually never make.  One is the NBA-range three-pointer.  Another is the contested three-pointer off the dribble.  Another is the step-back jump shot from more than 10 feet away.  If you see a player take those shots, then you can be confident the player will probably miss.  I would bet, for example, that UK hasn't made a single one of those shots all year.  Today, Turner made them all, over and over, and lot more besides. Here were his numbers:  14-19 from the field, 6-10 from three-point range, 6-6 from the line, 40 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.  Plus, he was at his best when A & M most needed him to score.  It was like watching a team with Kobe Bryant.

Almost any Kentucky team that ever took the floor would have struggled today, given how well Turner played.  (Seriously, if Turner played like this in every game, he would be the best guard I've seen in college since Michael Jordan.  He was that good.)  But I still think the Cats have some big problems.  They are one of the worst rebounding teams we've ever had.  Kyle Wiltjer can't get open (he took only two shots in 19 minutes today), and the rest of their outside shooters are mediocre.  Willie Cauley-Stein had five fouls in only 24 minutes.  Alex Poythress only played 21 minutes because he is apparently still mired in Coach Calipari's dog house.  Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow went a combined 11-29 from the field, mainly because they insist on taking shots that are virtually impossible to make.  Only Nerlens Noel (15 points, 11 rebounds) is really playing at a high level -- and that's not enough to dominate SEC competition.

Over and above all of this, however, is that these young players don't yet appreciate just how many things can go wrong in a college basketball game.  We fans know this -- we've seen opposing players get hot, we've seen bizarre officiating decisions, and we have sat through countless upsets.  Over the years, we learn the basic mantra of Kentucky basketball:  you must play hard on every play, because otherwise your margin of error is simply too thin.

These kids don't know this, because they've never suffered as we have.  Up to this point in their lives, almost everything has gone right for them, and they are finding it difficult to deal with adversity.

What all of us need to do now is quit thinking about the NCAA tournament, or worrying about Duke, or Louisville, or Indiana.  We need to go back to old school thinking.  Let's root for the Cats to play hard on every play.  Let's cheer for good efforts and floor burns.  Let's take our conference rivals seriously, and quit expecting to just roll over the rest of the SEC.  If this team works hard for the rest of the year, and fights desperately on every possession, good things can still happen.  But let's be clear:  they do not have enough talent to win any other way.  There are 16 games left in the season, and these young guys -- who started the year with such high hopes -- are in for a long, hard slog.

1 comment:

  1. Today, at the Sony Open, Russ Cochran shot a four-under par 66. He is 8-under par through three rounds, and is in a tie for 18th place.