I was there at Thompson-Boling Arena last Tuesday night, so allow me to recycle language uttered by fellow BBN attendees and say is it was a downright miserable night in Knoxville. Although it was not shrouded by the same “invincible” feeling we felt last season, I still felt very confident walking into that big orange building that the Cats would come out with a win. Of course, lingering thoughts of Auburn danced in my head as I drew parallels between the Tiger and Volunteer squads. I briefly entertained the thought that we could be in for a game visited by the “ghost of ballgames past.” However, my senses came back to me as I remembered that the Cats were (and still are, for that matter) the far superior team.
When the Vols cut Kentucky’s 21-point lead in half in about two minutes, I felt in my gut that it was going to be a bad night. When our bigs struggled (again) to adjust to the referee’s tight whistle, I knew we were in for a very bad night. And lastly, when Tennessee team captain, Armani Moore hit an uncontested three, I knew is was going to be a very, very bad night.
And the bad nights were not to end until Saturday. From Tuesday until Saturday, I felt the Big Blue Nation separate itself from optimism like oil in the rain. After an impressive four-game run, that loss was simply too much for the fans to swallow.
But, then Saturday came… and Saturday helped… a lot.
With all the uncertainly that followed the loss to Tennessee, the fan base and (most importantly) the Cats needed a win; and not just any win, but a big win. Confidence needed a dramatic rebuild. The Cats needed to be reminded who they were and what they had. In a 80-61 win over the Gators, memory was restored in a grand and dominating fashion.
Jamal Murray played a spectacular game. He scored 13-points in the first six minutes of the game, 20-points in the first half, and rounded out the game with a career-high 35-points. Shooting 8-10 from behind the arc wasn’t too bad, either. Commenting on his overall performance, in the post game presser, Murray said, “It (felt) good. It’s what I should have been shooting for the whole season, but I haven’t.” He paused to shake his head. His body language said to me that he was realizing he had missed some opportunities to materialize his innate shooting ability, and then he continued to say, “Hopefully I can continue it in the next game.”
Isaac Humphries had a breakout game. He had prepared himself for his shot on the court, but did not know until shortly before the game that his time had come. With Alex Poythress sitting out with knee issues, this would be Isaac’s time to shine. He has six rebounds, two blocks, and four-points, but his influence in the game simply cannot be measured in stats. Coach Cal said, “He earned his space and I’m so happy for him because he has worked so hard and hasn’t had the opportunity, and what he did was take advantage.” In the post game presser, Isaac seemed very happy to have his chance on the court, but was even happier about his overall performance, saying “I think I did well. I was on a mission to prove myself out there… I’m very self-critical and I can honestly say I think I did well.” From this point forward, Humphries said, “I just need to stay consistent. I finally got a opportunity and now I’ve got to continue growing on that.”
Tyler Ulis was, once again, great. It has become somewhat redundant writing, talking, and hearing about just how great of a player he is, but that truth cannot be overstated. With 18-points, 11-assists, and two steals, he was a dominate force on both ends of the court. On having multiple 10-assist games, like John Wall, Ulis said, “It means a lot to be on any type of list with him because he’s a great player, an All-Star. It’s great for me.” Kentucky has a kid playing on John Wall’s level, friends. Do not take this for granted.
Next up for the Cats are the Bulldogs of Georgia. With Tuesday’s night game being in Rupp Arena, coupled with Georgia’s brand of defense, a Kentucky win seems very likely. However, let us not overlook the fact that Georgia sits at 13-8 and has recently dropped tough games vs. Baylor and LSU. They are fighting to stay in tournament conversation, and a signature win against a mildly inconsistent Wildcat squad in Rupp Arena would speak volumes in their fight for a post season. But, the bottom line is that the Cats should be heavily favored with Ulis being able to contend with their experienced guards and Humphries being very likely to play big minutes against their more physical bigs. If you combine all that with a carry-over of hot offense from Murray, this game should be an easy win for the Cats, no matter how bad Georgia may want or need it.
So, if a Georgia win comes to fruition, I say we can call a mulligan on Tennessee and say it was just a random pothole on a relatively smooth, straight highway to the tourney.
A win versus Georgia would make the Cats having just one bad game in a stretch of seven. That is pretty good news heading into the homestretch of the season and into the post season– where you only have to string together six good games to win it all.
Chin up, BBN. It’s not over til’ it’s over, and the Wildcats are looking to be at peak potential when it matters. March is almost here, friends. Enjoy this!
Sidenote: Media passes to a Kentucky game is the greatest fan experience that only media personnel get. Shout out to Cameron Mills for making it possible for this “fan blogger” to get all the Florida game info first hand. Thanks, Boss. You’re the best!