Saturday, March 21, 2015

Kentucky 79 - 56 Hampton (Louisville) (NCAA Tourn.) (No. 2,175)

Here are a few observations on UK's first game of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

1.  I want to give a lot of credit to Hampton.  It would have been easy for the Pirates to have felt overmatched, or to pack it in, especially since they trailed 67-32(!) with 10 minutes left in the game.  But they never backed off, never stopped trying, and outscored Kentucky 24-12 down the stretch.    Plus, their fans stayed to the end.  Good for them.

2.  There was a fair amount of angst in Kentucky-world over those last 10 minutes, which allowed Hampton to make the score more respectable than most Wildcat fans expected.  There were a lot of stories about how UK was "flat," how Booker looked bad, and about how UK had to get better going forward.  But think about it like this -- Hampton played hard and didn't give up to many of the easy transition baskets you would normally expect in a 1 v. 16 game.  Furthermore, the Cats weren't lighting it up from the outside -- they made only 3 of 10 three-pointers in the game.  So UK had to win this game the hard way, with tough half-court defense and executing in the half court on offense.  Still, over 24 minutes of game time, from the 14 minute mark of the first half to the 10 minute mark of the second half, UK outscored Hampton 58-23.  That's pretty dominant.

3.  In any event, how you do in your first tournament game doesn't say that much about how you'll do going forward.  In 2010, UK shot the lights out in its first game and buried East Tennessee 100-71 -- a few weeks later poor shooting killed the Cats against West Virginia.  In 2011, UK looked terrible in a 59-57 win over Princeton in the first round.  A few weeks later, red-hot shooting took the Cats to the Final Four.

4.  We should not be counting on three-point shooting to carry this team to the title.  The 2012 team was a very good three-point shooting team -- they made 37.8 percent of their shots from behind the arc. This team makes only 34.9 percent.  Coach Calipari knows this -- which is why UK ranks 315th in the country in three-point shots as a percentage of total field goal attempts.  Now what this means for you as a fan is that the Cats are going to keep pushing the ball inside over and over and over.  It won't always be pretty, and it means that you will have games where Willie Cauley-Stein goes 1-5 from the field, missing one short shot after another.  But this is our plan.

5.  To me, the most important issue for UK is whether Karl-Anthony Towns can stay out of foul trouble.  Down the stretch, he has been UK's most important player, and he may now be the best player in the whole country.  Against Hampton, he played an almost perfect game:  8-12 from the field, 5-6 from the line, 21 points and 11 rebounds -- all in only 25 minutes.  Plus he was a dominant force on defense.  I think Calipari has decided that the Cats are going to live and die with Towns, and I can see why.

6.  From here on out, I expect each game to be a slugfest.  Kentucky will try to pound the ball down low, our opponents will try to stop Kentucky from pounding it down low, and victory will depend on the Wildcats getting a lot of putbacks.  It will be hard, physical basketball, and will require our guys to get punched in the head, slapped in the face, poked in the eye, and hammered on the back.  On paper, it may seem simple.  But these games aren't going to be played on paper -- they require young men to show determination and fortitude far beyond what is normal.  That's why Calipari keeps yelling at them, and that's why we keep cheering.

7.  One final note.  Rick Bozich, the IU grad and UK hater who left the C-J and now writes for, had a column based on his conversations with the Hampton players.  They all reported that they were surprised at how nice Kentucky's players were -- how polite and well-mannered they were, given their fame and (future) fortune.  I was not surprised by this -- I can rarely remember a nicer group of players on any Kentucky team.  But I was proud to read about it, and I hope more people in the press look past their stereotypes about Calipari and one-and-dones, and start appreciating what a special team this is.  Of course, that will require the Cats to keep winning -- and we have another tough test today.  Let's hope for the best.


  1. I thought they looked pretty good against Hampton. Of course, I missed the first 10 minutes.

    Go, Kentucky!

  2. Solid, two-touchdown victory for UK today against the Cincinnati Bengals.