What a game.
I feel like I could almost stop there and fans would still be able to grasp the emotion in those 3 words. The Cats were in need of a confidence builder. Calipari was in need of a signature win this season. The Big Blue Nation was in need of seeing serious growth for this not-old group of Wildcats. (Yes, I said “not-old” instead of “young.” After realizing ESPN called Kentucky “young” at least 11 times during the game telecast, I thought it was time for a new adjective.) Everybody got what they needed.
Here are some of my impressions from the game including several that are obvious and perhaps a couple that wasn’t so obvious:
That’s been the cry all season. Who was going to be “that guy”? Kevin Knox showed up in the biggest way possible. He knew when to shoot 3’s and when to take it inside. Kentucky fans should be greatly encouraged by a player embracing a challenge and shining under the bright lights.
Out-rebounding the Mountaineers by 15 was huge. Twenty-one offensive boards led to 26 second-chance points. Scrambling for 50-50 balls was consistent. Every player seemed to be locked in and ready to play. Yes, there were still mistakes, but the Cats learned tonight that giving 100% effort and continuing to hustle the entire game can erase those miscues.
Getting down by 17 points on two occasions could have broken the Cats’ will. It would have been easy to give up and concede the game. But Kentucky rose to the occasion again and again and did so through a team effort.
If West Virginia had any kind of promotion for opponents missing free throws, then Mountaineer fans went home empty-handed tonight. The Cats went 18-18 in the 2nd half. Those are grown man numbers.
Offensive struggles aside, Jarred played 11 minutes and pulled down 11 rebounds in that time. And you might have noticed how well he handled the ball. People throw around the term “point forward” but for Vanderbilt, it is an accurate description. He also appears to be gradually improving his conditioning which should be invaluable come tourney time.
PJ only played 11 minutes and had a less than stellar stat line (2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers). In the post-game press conference, Calipari almost nonchalantly said, “…and PJ was hurt…” Unfortunately, none of the reporters in attendance followed up on that comment so how PJ was hurt or the nature of the injury is unknown at this time. While watching a replay on my DVR, I noticed PJ was pretty active with his cheering from the bench, so hopefully whatever issue he had is relatively minor.
I’ve become Nick’s biggest fan recently, probably due in no small part to wanting to stand up for him to all the fans who’ve questioned why Calipari continued to give him minutes. It’s no secret that Richards has struggled this season. You can tell he is thinking about what he should do instead of just doing it. Against West Virginia, it appeared Nick had a breakthrough. Logging 20 solid minutes, Richards had 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 block.
What truly impressed me about Richards though was early in the game. Twice he made mistakes and both times, he briefly slumped his shoulders and lowered his head. But this time, instead of dwelling on the errors and maintaining poor body posture, Richards thumped himself in the chest saying “Let’s go!” Such a small thing on the surface, but to me, it indicates forward progress in his development process.
Playing For Kentucky
Calipari said it in his post-game remarks regarding Alexander and Green:
You’re not playing for you. You’re playing for us.
And tonight, that is exactly what this group of Wildcats did for the Big Blue Nation: they played for us.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue
Enjoy a few of the highlights of the game here:
The highlights you’ve been waiting for. Wait until the cinematic cut tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/ANtbCWLBGz
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 28, 2018