[Moderated by Matt Jones]
Wow. That was a stressful but exciting two and a half hours. I think that my heart rate has finally come down enough to allow us to take a closer look into what transpired in a game that may have provided Kentucky with their most realistic resume building opportunity for the tournament. In the end, Kentucky came out on top in overtime, 90-83. To the notes.
-The Gameday festivities clearly had fans firing on all cylinders. Even when the crowd had very little to cheer about to start, they pounced on any chance they were given like a pack of rabid Pitino’s during last call at Porcinis. From the Honey Boo Boo fathead all the way to the emphatic Go Big Blue chant to begin the game, it was clear that this Rupp Crowd was going to do what they could to will their team to victory. For a Missouri team that is 1-6 on the road in the SEC coming into historic Rupp Arena for the first time, one would expect that the Tigers would have had a hard time handling this Kentucky crowd. This did not appear to be the case. In fact, Missouri played a balanced and complete game that was relatively mistake free until the waning minutes of overtime.
-Anyone watching the first half would not have felt very good about Kentucky’s chances to pull this game out. The Cats have yet to figure out how to lock down the paint without their star defender Nerlens Noel. While Nerlens is obviously missed, his absence is only a half-baked explanation of Kentucky’s woes in the paint. The defense played by our guards on the perimeter allowed far too much dribble penetration. Especially in the first half, our guards were abused from the perimeter, getting blown by at will and this was a huge reason for easy layup opportunities. In the first half, the Tigers had layup after layup with 12 of their 14 first half field goals coming in the paint.
-While many of the easy layup opportunities can be attributed to poor guard defense, I am not sure anyone outside of MKG could have done much to slow down Phillip Pressey. The Missouri guard was doing everything he could to pull out a road win for his team, finishing with 27 points and 10 assists, Pressey’s fingerprints were on nearly every point that the Tigers scored in this overtime thriller. Ironically enough, Pressey also made the mistake that likely lost the game for the Tigers, turning the ball over at the end of overtime. Alex Oriakhi also showcased why Coach Calipari hoped that he would join Kentucky this year. Oriakhi was a force to be reckoned with, especially on the glass. Oriakhi finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Many analysts pointed to rebounding as the key to the game for the Cats and they were right; if we were going to lose this game, rebounding was going to be a big reason why. While the rebounding battle was won by Kentucky, Missouri had 15 offensive rebounds compared to Kentucky’s 9. Much of this damage was done in the first half and the Wildcats were able to shore some of this up after a momentum building conclusion to the half.
-The beginning of the second half brought some of the most exciting basketball that Kentucky has played all year. The Cats were looking to score at a rate that has not been seen from this team. Everyone was getting in on the action, but it was Archie Goodwin who got the ball rolling. After scoring zero points in the first half, Archie came out roaring, scoring 7 quick points in the first two minutes of the half. Goodwin continued to play well the rest of the half providing a steady flow of controlled (for the most part) offense. Archie finished with 18 points on 7-12 shooting.
-It was a real struggle to pick an MVP for this game. While it may seem obvious to some that Julius Mays was the player of the game, there were so many guys that did a lot of great things. As I was writing this, I changed my mind multiple times about who I thought earned it. What about Ryan Harrow keeping us in the game in the first half with his aggressive play? What about Poythress’ late game heroics and consistent effort? And Goodwin in the second half? This was a solid team effort. Julius Mays did too much not to get the nod in this game though. Uncle Julius’ old bones made it through 44 minutes of playtime logging only 38 seconds on the bench. His 24 points were obviously crucial but so was his leadership. On multiple occasions, Uncle Julius became the coach on the floor, letting guys know when they did something that didn’t need to be done. After an out-of-control drive by Archie Goodwin that lead to a turnover, Julius told Archie what we were all thinking: PASS THE BALL! Accountability was the word of the postgame talk with Coach Cal and no one on this Kentucky team has held guys more accountable than Julius.
-As good as Julius was, I have to mention this. With two and a half seconds left and Archie Goodwin streaking wide open down the court, Julius did a very un-Julius like thing—he made a stupid play. Instead of continuing down the court or attempting to pass the ball to Archie, Julius heaved the ball from half court. In the end, this play didn’t matter—the Cats fought and won a game that they could have easily lost. It could have been devastating though and would have overshadowed an otherwise awesome game. Kudos to Uncle Julius tonight.
-One dark spot on an otherwise great night was the complete disappearance of Kyle Wiltjer. I thought that those days were behind him but Wiltjer scored just 4 points, all off of free throws. He was a complete non-factor on a night when everyone seemed to be getting in on the action. The game may have been played too fast for the Big YMCA as even our more athletic players had serious issues guarding Missouri. When Wiltjer isn’t doing anything offensively, he can’t be on the floor against a team like Mizzou.
-Overall, this game was host to some of the best basketball that Kentucky has played all year. The Cats showed the will and the desire to win and they earned a huge win at home against a top 50 RPI team. When Selection Sunday comes, the Cats will be extremely happy to have this win on their application. Since dodge ball worked this week, what games can Cal play with the team this week? Handball? Backgammon? Perhaps a match of LARPing? Enjoy your night everyone, and a special shout out to those of you that participated in Dance Blue yesterday and today. People like you are what make being a UK student so awesome.
One final note: Archie Goodwin made TWO three point shots. That is all.
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