“I told them this was on me”, that was the message that John Calipari delivered to the media and Wildcat fans after the UK coach suffered his first loss in the rivalry that is UK-UL. It was typical Calipari using his time tested method of not letting his guys getting complacent. After a big win, find a couple of areas to hit home on and keep these ultra talented players from getting cocky. And after a loss, lift up those same guys who played their tails off by saying “…this was on me”. This time though, Cal is right…but not in the way he’d want you to think. This one was on him, not for spending too little time on the press offense or not calling a timeout, but it was simply the fact that since “Camp Cal” began he has coached this team up to place few thought they could get to.
Don’t get me wrong there’s still room for plenty of improvement, but the list is really short of a) people who thought the Cats could hang with the Cards and b) those who thought UK could come back from 17 down in the second half to have a chance to win.
With that being said, here’s a “Baker’s Dozen” thoughts on a Wildcat Weekend:
1) However they got to this point, these guys (with the exception of Alex Poythress) have found what Cal has been talking about—the level you have to play at EVERY possession. Instead of shrinking from the moment, they rose up to it. The execution wasn’t always perfect and in some cases not very good, but the effort was at championship level
2) Ryan Harrow can run this club. After seeing some early practices and then with his extended absence I wasn’t so sure about that, but his decision making was excellent, his shot selection timely and appropriate and his toughness unquestioned as evidenced by his play down the stretch.
3) As I said on the radio pre-game show, with so many NBA scouts in attendance , certain players were going to be able to make themselves some money or cost themselves some coin. Willie Cauley Stein just opened an account! In his first start and in the most pressure packed game to date, the kid played his best game of the year. Sure the free throw shooting is concerning, but look how far he’s already come coupled with how far the scouts see he can still go and he’s a guy the pros are going to love!
4) Archie Goodwin is a like a great defensive back—he has NO short term memory. Look at his face and most importantly his on court demeanor, you can’t tell whether he’s drained three in row or gone 0 for his last 10. To have the kind of so-so game he had for most of the afternoon and then to STILL have the confidence he showed down the stretch—Big Time Player!
5) Cal is going to have to play EVERY available guard frequently to squeeze all the juice out of his backcourt. Julius Mayes gets teased all the time for being the “old man” of the team and while in years he is, physically he’s easily captured that crown. He’s always got something taped up and most of the time walks like Fred Sanford. How many coaches have you heard say when you’re shot stops falling like you’re used to, it’s usually the legs. Mayes needs fresh legs to knock down the shots he’s going to get. Cal showed he’s not afraid to use Kyle Wiltjer or Jarod Polson in the biggest situations and the coach said that Harrow is just now where he thought he’d be on day one. All of this leads to the other relevant back court question what’s the deal with Jon Hood. A UK spokesman told me on Sunday that Hood still isn’t well and still isn’t back with the team. Some are wondering if we’ll ever see the former Mr. Basketball back in a Wildcat uniform. Of course there were those who thought we’d seen the last of DeAndre Liggins and Ryan Harrow at Kentucky as well but Calipari has shown a willingness to give players lots of room to work out issues.
6) Cal announced on his website today that he’s going to start personally doing pre-practice workouts with Alex Poythress. While he may not say it publicly, the UK coach believes Poythress is the X-Factor on what would be an improbable run deep into the NCAA tournament.
7) Not just Poythress, but I believe that in general Cal has become reenergized by this team. NOTHING lights this man’s fire like someone telling him he can’t do something. And with so many on a national level saying this team is limited, Cal is once again motivated by proving the doubters wrong.
8) Even though he was the top recruit in the country, Nerlens Noel still has a healthy upside. Like EVERY big name kid Cal has brought to Lexington, he’s already since stepping on campus and remember that because he re-classified, he didn’t get here til August.
9) No matter what the pollsters say, there’s no question in my mind, UK is one of the top 25 teams in the country.
10) Former UK Assistant Coach and ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes tweeted a prayer request on Sunday morning for Patsy Sutton, the wife of former UK coach Eddie Sutton, who according to Dykes had suffered a major stroke. During her families trials and tribulations on and off the court, Ms. Patsy as Eddie called her publicly, was the model of grace and dignity.
11) With the challenges SEC basketball teams have had in the pre-conference portion of their schedules, there’s really no room for error once league play begins. The opportunity for “quality wins” seems to be Florida, Missouri and UK.
12) Luke Kennard, the outstanding sophomore from my hometown of Franklin Ohio had a big weekend at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach. I mention this NOT because he’s from my hometown, but because he’s one of the top sophomores in the country and he LOVES UK. Cal had him down for an “unofficial visit this summer. Here’s a story from Myrtle Beach Online: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2012/12/29/3245216/beach-ball-classic-notebook-franklins.html
13) Finally, from the department of irony department, the only Wildcat who may be participating in the post season---Joker Phillips who was tweeting the other night from an eatery in New Orleans where Florida is getting ready to take on Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Phillips of course the new wide receivers coach of the Gators.