[Moderated by Matt Jones]
What a game. The Cats got their biggest win of the season today in what was truly an emotional roller coaster; excitement when we jumped out to an early lead, frustration when we couldn’t get a field goal for the next 6 minutes, despair when we were down 7 with under 10 to play, and pure joy when Julius Mays iced the game with 10 seconds to go in his career at Rupp Arena. We’ve seen plenty of low points with this team but there have also been a handful of games like the one today. Games that cause fans like me get butterflies in their stomach and dreams of an NCAA tournament run dancing in their head. Hopefully this will be a sign of things to come, but for now let’s enjoy the win and break down what happened.
-First and foremost, our energy and focus was about as high as it’s been all season. Guys were diving for loose balls, battling for rebounds, and stepping up to take charges. Rebounding and turnovers have been a recurring problem for this team all year. Obviously talent and athleticism play and role in excelling in these categories, but at their roots it’s all about energy and focus. The reason Alex Poythress pulled in 12 rebounds today wasn’t because of his size or athleticism. He’s had those all season. Alex was a beast on the boards today because he played with a tenacity that had been previously absent from his game. The same is true for the entire team. For the first time in a while we won both the overall (35-34) and offensive (10-7) rebounding battles. Not only did the Cats rebound well, but we took care of the ball too (9 team turnovers). Again, this isn’t because we have skilled ball-handlers and passers (which we do). It’s because these guys kept focused throughout the game. The talent has always been there on this team. It’s games like this that show how much better we can be when the immeasurable, energy and focus, are there too.
-Willie Cauley-Stein only played 25 minutes due to foul trouble, but his impact on the game and his importance to the team cannot be overstated. I’m going off of memory so the times might not be exactly right, but with around 13 minutes to go in the second half Kentucky was up 7 and WCS picked up his fourth foul. Willie came out and Florida proceeded to go on an 8-0 run. At that point Cal had no choice but to but him back in the game, and watch as he finished the final ten minutes of the without fouling out, a la Nerlens Noel. Willie isn’t Nerlens, but he provided a similar effect today. When he was in the game he completely changed the way Florida’s guards attacked the basket. When he was out, it was practically open season in the paint. He’ll have to learn not to pick up those silly fouls in the future, but today he was able to stay in the game just long enough to help his team to a win.
-You could tell from the get-go that Julius Mays was going to leave it all on the line today. Uncle Julius was feeling it from outside. Although he only went 3-9 from three (2 or 3 were with the shot-clock winding down) he was confident in his shot and the ones that went in were at huge moments. He ended the game with 13 points, but none were as big as the 2 free throws he hit with 10 seconds to play. Up by two and with his time at Rupp Arena about to run out, he calmly made both shots and put away Florida for good. Julius reminds me a lot of Ravi Moss. Neither will be remembered as a Kentucky great, but both will always be remembered as someone who left it all on the court every single game. Here’s to hoping Julius can extend his Kentucky career as long as possible.
-How about the crowd today? I wasn’t there but you could tell from watching the TV broadcast that Rupp was rockin’. Cal asked the fans to stay on their feet for the final eight minutes and the big blue faithful followed through. Also, Florida did not score a single point after the under 8 timeout. Coincidence? I think not.
-Ryan Harrow had himself a great game too. He ended up with 13 points, 2 assists, and 4 rebounds. What is most impressive to me is his 1 turnover. In a big game like this you need your point guard taking care of the ball, and Harrow did an excellent job of that today.
I’m to rattle off some quick thoughts here.
-Kyle Wiltjer had bad game but it’s alright because we beat Florida. He’ll need to be better down the stretch though. O points off of 0-7 shooting just isn’t going to cut it.
-Archie had his usual out-of-control moments but overall I thought he played pretty solid. He was aggressive on defense and came up with 4 steals, a couple of which led to a thunderous fast break dunk.
-I see you with that block in the first half Jon Hood!
-This game put us back into Lundardi’s last four in. Now we need to root against all bubble teams and for all favorites in conference tourneys. I still wouldn’t be comfortable if Selection Sunday were today but I’m not a bracketologist so take it for what it’s worth.
That’s all for now, go out and enjoy this win.
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