[Moderated by Matt Jones]
My thoughts, opinions, and other interesting tidbits from last nights 75-53 beating of the Auburn Tigers.
1. In the first half of last night’s game, about 9 minutes in to to be exact, I noticed something. For the first time since Billy G was at the helm, I was simply not enjoying watching Kentucky basketball. I know they had their struggles during Cal’s second season, but it was not to this extent. At one point, Kentucky was shooting 2-14 from the field and parts of me were slowly dying on the inside. I had pretty much lost all hope in this team. Then the last 30 minutes happened. After the cold shooting start, Kentucky went on to shoot 28-41 (nearly 70%) the rest of the way in what was the best stretch of basketball we’ve seen in the SEC so far and all lost hope has been restored. I’m still not sure if this team will ever figure itself out completely en route to a championship, but I do believe a nice little NCAA run is in store. Just watch.
2. Speaking of how I watched the first half of last night’s game, thanks UK, thanks a lot. As a UK freshman living in the dorms, the cable the University provides for us does not feature ESPNews. Thus, I had to watch the majority of the first half on a laggy computer screen while Cincinnati and Marquette occupied my television. As you can tell, this is not my ideal situation to watch a basketball game. Your move, UK.
3. In my last post I congratulated Kyle Wiltjer for finally showing up in an SEC game, but I also challenged him to become more consistent as that is something that has eluded him in the past. And Kyle responded. Positively. Wiltjer dropped 17 (6-13 FG, 3-6 3pt) on the Tigers to go along with his 4 rebounds and 5 assists. But, I must say, those 5 assists were absolute dimes. On multiple occasions last night Wiltjer made head-turning passes like his no-looker in the paint to Goodwin for the slam. Wiltjer also played a bit of the 5 last night due to Noel’s foul trouble and didn’t perform too poorly guarding Auburn big Rob Chubb (yes, that’s his last name). Chubb finished with 14 and 7, but only a few of those were on Kyle. The Cats moved to 8-1 when Kyle scores double figures and continues to prove as their x-factor.
4. Our biggest fears came to fruition last night without Wille Cauley-Stein in the lineup for what looks to be awhile. Nerlens Noel foul trouble. Noel picked up two fouls at about the midway point in the first half, and then picked up a third on the first possession of the second half. The Cats didn’t play too poorly with him out and held a 5 point lead at the break, but Noel is too much of a difference maker on the defensive end for them to be able to afford him being out without a viable backup. No WCS meant Wiltjer playing the five for a majority of the first half and while he did his job, there defensive makeup is notably different. Get well WCS!
5. Another thing that was mightily improved from the previous couple games was the defense. Auburn shot below 35% from the floor including going 0-15 from downtown. The Cats haven’t gone a game without a three pointer in ages and to be able to hold a team to no three point makes is something special. UK was able to contest jumpers, swat shots, and limit the Tigers to one shot a possession as Auburn only had 7 offensive rebounds (UK won the rebounding battle 39-24, finally). If UK can rely on that kind of defensive outing (or something close) for the rest of the season then they will truly be one of the nations best teams.
6. Nerlens Noel gave another herculean effort (in the time he played) last night as he went for 10 points (on 5-8 shooting), 9 rebounds, and 7 blocks. Noel’s contributions of late are irreplaceable and the more he has games like the more he should be noticed by the national media. And don’t look now, but Noel is beginning to gain ground on Anthony Davis in the shot blocking department. Noel has 69 blocked shots through 17 games, and last season Davis had 78 blocks through 17 games. So while Davis does have a decent lead on Noel, Noel has had 20 blocks in the last three games alone. Keep your head on a swivel, Anthony. Oh, and by the way, Nerlens did this last night:
How’s it hanging?
7. With WCS out for the time being, it means a shorter bench, right? Or does it mean the return of #Polsanity? I prefer the latter. Polson got 10 minutes of action last night in WCS’s absence, and he did not disappoint. Polson made some high-flying manuevers, and finished with 6 points on 3-3 shooting, and 3 rebounds. Perhaps his most impressive feat of the night, though, was after he was pick-pocketed by Auburn guard Josh Wallace, he tracked him down on the fast break and swatted it away. If Harrow were to leave after this season, I would be more than comfortable with Polson dispelling Andrew Harrison next season which is something I’d never thought I’d say. Here’s a picture of Polson’s defensive stand:
8. Keeping my theme in tune with my post about Skylar McBee, Auburn too possesses a player who seems like he's been on the squad since the days before the three point line (although last night it didn't even matter for them). That player is Frankie Sullivan. Fortunately, unlike Skylar McBee, Sullivan does not sport a creepy mustache of sorts (yeah, I'm still talking about it, it's that gross). Sullivan has actually been on the team since Billy G's UK days as he is a 5th year senior. Early on in Sullivan's junior year he was injured and was able to redshirt for the season. Actually, Sullivan has been one of the SEC's best player thus far into the season as he is averaging over 17 points per game. However, last night he struggled to adapt to UK's length and athleticism on the defensive end and finished 5-16 from the field including 0-6 from deep.
9. Something that stands out to me right now is that after tonight, the Cats are 2-0 now on the road in SEC play (albeit against 2 bad opponents). In comparison, the 2011 Kentucky team, you know the one that ended the final four drought, started off 1-6 in the SEC on the road before finally defeating Tennessee in Knoxville. So hopefully, hopefully, this means that this team may be getting some early road confidence that could eventually pay dividends down the road when they get to the likes of Florida, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. I still think the Cats finish at 15-3 in the SEC to go 24-7 on the season.
10. I'm not going to lie, I'm a sucker for a good day of college basketball in general. And wow, was yesterday a good day. Not only did the Cats win by 22 on the road, but Manti Teo's girlfriend lost to Syracuse at home and will drop from their top spot in the rankings (that took long). Also, if you didn't get a chance to see the ending of Gonzaga and Butler I feel for you because that game and situation is what college basketball is all about. And to finish this thing off I'll share a picture of Manti Teo's girlfriend.
(see what I did there)
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