Jan 26, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Nerlens Noel (3) reacts to foul call during the game against the LSU Tigers in the first half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated LSU 75-70. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Dominant Without Forcing

In a world filled with statistics, I’m not a numbers guy. I hate looking at them. Deciphering them. Making sense of them. Nothing about them is appealing so I avoid them like the plague. So I’m not going to break down numbers for you because statistics can say whatever you want them to, plus it would look like my 4 year old doing AP Calculus.

But after hearing Nerlens Noel’s comments this afternoon about how he doesn’t care about the record but wants to win the championship, it is clear just what separates this team from Calipari’s first two, and how it compares favorably with last year’s National Champions.
You see, both Noel and Anthony Davis had that aptitude to understand that they have to force absolutely nothing to be a force in the game. Nothing. Davis proved that by dominating the National Title game but only hitting one shot but still had a stat line that had never been done before: 6 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 blocks, and 3 steals. Noel dominated Ole Miss and only took one shot (scored 2 on FT) though he set a UK record with 12 blocked shots to go with 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal.

That, my friends, is the two best examples of domination without force. Neither of Coach Cal’s first teams had that quiet, dominating presence. None had the demeanor to take a back seat to the flow of the game.

Looking at Cal’s first team, we marveled at John Wall’s ankle breaking moves and DeMarcus Cousin’s imposing physicality and volatility and neither had one ounce of humility. A few of us spent every game in that first season trying to understand the hype around Bledsoe and Orton, but in the grand scheme of the season, we really only cared to see Wall and Boogie put on a show. And boy did they ever. Unfortunately that culminated with a very disappointing finish in the Elite 8 against WVU. We expected more because of their talent when we should have known better because of their heart. Sure they want to win but not at the cost of their individual games.

And as you all know, Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, and Orton all get drafted and we reloaded with (notably) Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb. And we loved this team. Knight was completely opposite of Wall in flashiness but Jones was a combo personality of both Wall and Cousins so we always had flare in the game with his volatile unpredictability. And that was awesome. Then we had Lamb who was the assassin that we thought would get us over the WVU hump of missing some 26 three pointers. That netted us a loss to U Conn in the Final 2011 Final Four. An improvement yes, but still far short of another banner that we actually hang, though we did hang this one. Still though, on this team, there was not one ounce of humility among their major players. And while we loved the entertainment, we hated to lose.

On we move to Fall 2011 where Calipari brings in the best recruiting class/veteran combo we have seen to date with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer playing alongside Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. And boy that team was a force so dominant it rivaled some of the most storied in the annals of college basketball.

What set them apart from Calipari’s first two teams is attitude. Sure most of their major contributors were frosh, but they didn’t think like Frosh though sometimes they played like them. Davis and MKG played like Juniors most of the time. Lamb (Soph) and Miller (Senior) both played like the veterans they were. Neither cared which got theirs on any given night. Some threw up more junk than others but their heart was almost always in the game for the win, despite how that impacted their draft status. Jones and Lamb left Millions of the table to come back for a title run. It paid off in a huge way for UK and them. Because after cutting down the next in April 2012, they both were First Rounders in the NBA draft. Davis and MKG were #1 and #2 (first time in history) with Davis bringing home Gold from London. All told, that team set themselves apart with their unselfish, humble attitude. It wasn’t just one person that held them together. They held one another and as a result they were a machine on the court.

And now in the midst of this 2012-2013 season, our current Cats and their Frosh (Noel, Goodwin, Poythress, and Willie Cauley-Stein) sit at 14-6 (5-2) and are finally figuring out that missing piece of their game and it is their attitude. And their attitude has nothing to do with their aggressiveness; it has to do with their forcing the issue. When they play within themselves and stop trying to dominate, they dominate. Every. Single. Time. When Nerlens Noel misses his only shot yet is arguably the main reason they beat #16 ranked Ole Miss on the road despite them throwing every gimmick to draw more Rebel fans, it speaks to the unselfish aptitude of a team still working out the kinks. When Poythress gets popped for two fouls in the first half and sits, then comes out in the second and dominates, that speaks to his character and will. Same for Wiltjer and his aggressiveness around the rim and in the paint, his heart said go and he went. Yeah he took the most shots on the team but we needed them and he knew it. The key to him isn’t that he went 10-19 but his offense fit the flow of the game.

And there is the difference, the stark contrast from Cal’s first two teams to the 2012 National Champions and this team: attitude.

These boys are learning to be a dominant force without forcing anything.

This isn’t hyperbole. It’s reality.

These Cats have the attitude of last year’s National Champions.

Do I think we repeat? No…but that’s why they play the game.

On, On, U of K

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