Written By: Jeff Rozen Posted By: Tina Cox
A funny thing happened on the way to this column: it got hijacked by more positive vibes.
I had originally written a piece with the ominous title, “What’s Wrong with the Cats?” That came in the wake of UK’s disastrous performance against Ohio State in Brooklyn. You remember that one, right? I know, it’s been over a week, and there was a little neighborhood social event on Saturday that may have clouded your memory a bit.
Mine too, and that’s why I had to shift gears in midstream… or midsentence, if you will.
After the debacle at the Barclays Center, some in the Big Blue Nation had begun to ponder the unthinkable: could the Cats really, actually, truly lose to Louisville? In basketball? That’s become such a foreign concept that the mere act of putting those words together seems more like writing some sort of bizarro-world fan fiction than the sort of fact based stuff you’d expect to see in a sports blog. Chalk it more up to doubt in our team than respect for theirs, but either way, a sizable number of folks (did you see the media’s picks?) had the Big Blue losing to Team Katina in Rupp Arena.
Then we all woke up. The Cats played the full forty minutes with passion, if not always executing well. They led by as many 16 points. They led for all but 10 minutes of the game, including the entire second half. And so, despite a poor showing on the boards, Cal took Little Ricky to school once again, making it… well, you know…
*NB- The “1” now stands for a certain finger, and not Pitino’s lone victory over Kentucky since 2008.
Now I’ll admit, this is a ham-handed segue, and Dr. Lecter would surely chide me that “it won’t do,” but here goes: speaking of taking Ricky to school, I’ve decided to give the Cats a mid-season report card.
A word of caution: I’m afraid the grades I’m about to hand out are going to be well south of Dean’s List material. But fret not; there’s another week of Camp Cal remaining, so let’s hope we see some improvement by next weekend, throughout the remainder of the SEC slate, and into March.
Let’s do this in descending order:
Poythress/Lee: A (18.5 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 62.5% FG, 2.7 bpg)
Do we have a 2-headed monster at the 4 spot? The two have more or less rotated at that position, and while there have been a few blips here and there, the results speak for themselves. This would be an A+ if not for Lee’s horrid FT shooting.
Tyler Ulis: B (12.8 ppg, 5.5 apg, 36.6% FG, 30.2% 3FG, 87.8% FT, 3-1 A-TO ratio)
The feisty little guy from Chicago is becoming one of my all-time favorites. It’s hard to imagine where this team would be without him; we’d be dealing with a loss to Louisville for sure. He gets a B because his shooting has been curiously bad, but as his play on Saturday showed, that may be improving in a hurry.
Dominique Hawkins: B
He’s played limited minutes, but he gets a B for his gutsy, save-the-day performance vs. Louisville. With Briscoe out, Cal asked the affable junior from Richmond to step up. Thankfully, he was listening.
Charles Matthews: B-
Aside from the boys from down under, the least heralded member of this year’s recruiting class is earning solid minutes (15 pg) and inviting some comparisons to DeAndre Liggins for his defensive potential.
Derek Willis: B-
I’m grading on a curve here. His shot selection needs work, and he’ll never be confused for a great defender, but he is contributing on a more or less consistent basis… and that’s more than some ever expected from him.
Jamal Murray: C (16.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 40.2% FG, 39.0% 3FG, 74.5% FT)
Like I said… grading on a curve. Kentucky’s most complete player is, for now, its most maddening. One minute he looks like Michael Jordan, the next like Michael Porter. When- or if- he puts it all together, UK will be that much closer to meeting its pre-season expectations.
Isaiah Briscoe: C- (11.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 5.6 rpg, 48.5% FG, 23.5% 3FG, 37.5% FT)
He’s a defensive bulldog, a relentless and effective driver, and one of UK’s best rebounding guards of all time. He’s also the worst free throw shooter on the team.
Isaac Humphries: Incomplete
I saw him on a milk carton this morning.
Skal Labissiere: F
Almost too sad to contemplate at this point. UK’s hopes for a national title this season have dissipated along with his performance.
So what’s ahead in the SEC and beyond?
First off, UK has to figure out something to bolster their inside game, and in a hurry. Unfortunately, we have to assume for the time being that Skal isn’t going to be the answer. Can Humphries and/or Wynyard contribute at all? Can they at least provide some fouls and grab a rebound or three?
And when we do run up against a quality big man, how will we defend him? Cal may have to bite the bullet and go to a zone.
Finally, let’s hope that Saturday’s big win is the impetus that will drive the team forward. The buzzer-to-buzzer passion and excellent shooting were timely and a sight for sore eyes, and if they continue, will go a long way towards alleviating our problems inside.
Next up: the SEC!