It’s been a tough week for the BBN. A not-good loss to Seton Hall in overtime last week was bad enough, but coupled with the sudden departure of Quade Green, it’s been a less than joyous holiday season in the Bluegrass. With games against North Carolina and Louisville on the horizon, the Wildcat faithful needed a big dose of positivity Saturday when the Cats took on the Utah Utes.
It didn’t hurt that this was the day UK had chosen to recognize the 1993 Final Four team as seeing former Wildcats (Jared Prickett, Dale Brown, Gimel Martinez, Jeff Brassow, Andre Riddick) in Rupp has a most positive effect on the fans. Three members of the 93 team met with the media prior to the game. Their full remarks can be viewed here:
It was also an excellent time to recognize members of the 2018 football team for bringing home the Governor’s Cup a few weeks ago and as Deandre Square, Lynn Bowden, Bunchy Stallings, Benny Snell, Jr., Josh Allen, and Coach Mark Stoops walked onto the court during a timeout, the cheers were easily the loudest heard in this arena in a very long time.
After a seemingly slow start to the game, one couldn’t help but wonder if the final game in Rupp Arena prior to the holidays was going to result in fans leaving with a Bah, Humbug! kind of feeling. After Tyler Herro hit the opening basket to give the Cats a 2-0 lead, Kentucky didn’t score again for nearly 3 minutes. The scoring drought might not have been so bad had the Utes not scored 10 unanswered points during that period of time. You could hear the concern of the BBN in Rupp Arena.
Enter Keldon Johnson and his endless confidence. After draining a 3 that began a 28-9 run for the Cats, Johnson ultimately made four more 3-pointers in the half. Not surprisingly, he ended the game as Kentucky’s leading scorer with 24 points (8-9 FGA, 6-7 3-pt FGA). Tyler Herro who has been struggling from long range of late appeared no closer to finding the solution to his woes until he finally swished a 3 as time expired at halftime. Coach Cal said he told Tyler as they were walking off the court at the half, “Do you know why you made that? Because you didn’t have time to think about it You just caught it and shot it and you trusted yourself. You trusted all your hard work.”
With a 14-point lead to begin the 2nd half (41-27), the Cats seemed poised to turn this game into a full blowout, increasing the lead to as many as 19 points. However, Utah did what every other team has done this season and hit a little streak of 3-pointers of their own and closed the gap to 10 points with 11:52 remaining in the game. Neither team could score for the next 2.5 minutes until PJ Washington hit a layup, which started another good run for the Cats that left them 23 points ahead by the 6:48 mark.
After that run, the outcome was no longer in doubt and only the final margin was left to be determined. Well, that and of course two burning questions: Would the fans go home with vouchers for free chicken & biscuits from Chick Fil A? ( The answer this time was “No”) and Is Jemarl Baker going to play? (Yes, but only the final 2 minutes because, as Cal explained after the game, “I forgot we had him on the bench.”)
Other than the cheers for Josh Allen (who was also the “Y” in the traditional K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y cheer in the 2nd half), the only thing that came close to that was Jemarl’s time on the court. Calipari told him he needed him to score the ball, so Baker did just that, nailing back-to-back 3 pointers in less than 30 seconds.
As the final tune-up prior to facing North Carolina in next weekend’s CBS Sports Classic, one should be at least a little more encouraged given last week’s stunning loss. The Cats protected the ball well (only 6 turnovers) while forcing Utah in 18 miscues and scoring 34 points off of those turnovers. Kentucky also held Utah to 61 points while shooting a season-high 58.6% from the field and having a season-best 57.1 percentage from 3-point range.
Better passing, better shot selection, and better shooting showed Calipari’s team had put in significant time this week on the offensive side of things. Since Camp Cal is in full swing, it will be interesting to see how much improvement will be made by the time the Wildcats face off against the Tarheels. My observations today were that both Cal and the players are very optimistic about the future and are pleased with the improvements that have been made. Here’s hoping they continue to trend upward because that makes it a lot easier to enjoy the ride!
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