After Saturday’s 69-59 loss to the Florida Gators, many in the Big Blue Nation wondered what lessons, if any, the Kentucky Wildcats learned from the game against the Gators. Could the team rebound from a tough loss? Could the team take that disappointment and play with and edge? The Wildcats went out against Ole Miss on Tuesday night and answered a lot of questions, defeating the Rebels 84-70 in Oxford, MS.
As I’ve already pointed out, this current UK team is fighting expectations. Fair or not, people within and on the outside of the Big Blue Nation are going to continue to look at this team through the “40-0″ prism. Against the Rebels, the Wildcats played well. The team showed no lasting or lingering effects from the Florida game. They took the crowd out of the game, by hitting their shots (59% in the first half) and playing stellar defense on Ole Miss’ sharpshooting Marshall Henderson. The Kentucky lead reached has high as 22 points in the second half, but the Rebels surged back to cut the lead to 76-70 with 1:48 left. Unlike earlier games this season, the Cats answered a team’s late surge and ended the game on an 8-0 run.
Julius Randle. If Julius Randle going to continue being a beast, go ahead and pencil the Cats in for that second weekend in the NCAA Tournament. He lead the way with 25 points and 13 rebounds on 6 of 7 shooting from the floor, 13 of 14 from the free throw line. If Randle is going to be that efficient on offense and keep working to improve on defense, Kentucky is going to be much tougher to beat. Against the Rebels, he used his strength, agility and touch around the rim, showing why he was such a highly recruited prospect.
Aaron Harrison. Aaron, who had a dreadful night against Florida bounced back against Ole Miss finishing with 17 points on 6 of 13 shooting. Most importantly, he played stellar defense on Marshall Henderson, giving the Ole Miss star few good looks (not that it kept Henderson from shooting 5 of 17 from the floor). The best kept secret on this team is the steady improvement of Aaron and Andrew Harrison in the backcourt. If the defense from both twins continues to improve, you can ink the Cats into that second weekend of the NCAAs.
Jarrod Polson. I’ve long been against the overwhelming amount of love that Polson receives from the majority of the BBN. I don’t believe he should start. I don’t believe he needs to play 30 minutes a game. What Polson can do and what he did against Ole Miss is to spell either Harrison in the backcourt. As a backup, Polson’s biggest benefit to the Cats is that he facilitates both ball and player movement, particularly against zone defenses. The ball never sticks in his hands and he doesn’t pound the ball at the top of the key, hoping for something to happen. He’s the best passer to the post that the Cats have (by far) and he can hit the standstill three pointer with deadly accuracy. Against the Rebels, Polson played 11 minutes, shot 1 of 2 from three point range, had 3 points, 2 assists and 1 rebound. If Polson can keep that up, you can carve into stone the Wildcats appearance on that second weekend of the NCAAs and maybe entertain thoughts of reaching Elite status.
Alex Poythress. He dunks very well.
The Wildcats finished the game with 19 turnovers, which is far too many, particularly when they were unforced. And, yes, the 22 point lead was whittled to 6 before the Cats ended up winning. This team is not a finished product. But, the team is getting better. Missed free throws have haunted this team in its losses and against Ole Miss, the Cats were 27 of 30 (90%). The Cats shot 52% from the field and held the Rebels to 38.7%. The Cats outrebounded the Rebels 39-23. In short, Kentucky is doing a lot of things well and they are showing improvement. Head Coach John Calipari and the Cats are finally starting to find answers. Any questions?