As anticipated, the Kentucky Wildcats were anointed as the new #1 team in college basketball after defeating Michigan State last Tuesday. After soundly thumping EKU on Friday night, the BBN was riding high. This team didn’t have that “letdown” game so many anticipated. This team was mature beyond their years, surely. They deserved that #1 ranking. What could possibly go wrong between now and the beginning of conference play? Wasn’t it within the realm of possibility the Cats could complete the 2019 portion of the season undefeated?
But then the arctic blast hit and the first snow of the season fell. The Patriots and Alabama had both been defeated within the past week. Tennessee still owned Kentucky Football. Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about perfect Novembers and Decembers just yet. Maybe, just maybe we should wait until after the game versus Evansville, coached by former Wildcat great Walter McCarty. Maybe we should just cool out jets and remember this team is still learning. And this team had not yet played with a #1 ranking on their shoulders.
After a slow start by both teams during the opening 6 minutes of the game, it seemed that the letdown game may have indeed arrived, but there was no real worry about the Cats ultimately winning. Not yet, anyway.
However, early foul trouble (2 each on Hagans, Richards, Maxey, and Sestina), some very sloppy turnovers, and ice-cold shooting (at one point 22% in the first half, though UK did “rally” and get it to 34.6% by halftime) saw the Cats trail for nearly 12 minutes in the first half. The deficit was as large as 8 points, but Kentucky seemed to steady the ship and pulled within 4 points to go to the locker room with the score of 34-30 in favor of Evansville.
As is the norm at Rupp when playing against “lesser” competition, there was no real worry that the Cats wouldn’t make the necessary adjustments and then steamroll the Purple Aces in the second half. Except…
In the end, it was McCarty’s Aces that emerged victoriously, defeating Kentucky 67-64. While the Cats played much cleaner in the 2nd half (only 2 second-half turnovers versus 11 for the 1st half), they never quite got the shots to fall consistently. Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley were the only Cats to hit double figures (15 and 16 respectively). The team only managed to eke out 6 assists for the game and were also out-rebounded by Evansville 38-35. And the defense which usually takes their cues from Hagans wasn’t on point..and neither was Ashton. (Cal said after the game Hagans was “a little bit injured” and “probably should have had the game off.”
After the game, the Purple Aces and Coach McCarty both said they had been dialed in all week preparing for this game. They knew they matched up well and they knew they could get the win if the team stuck together. And that’s what they did.
It was difficult not to be happy for the Evansville players. They genuinely seemed humbled by their accomplishments and were lavish with their praise for the Kentucky team. They had a loud celebration going on in their locker room and it was well-deserved. Then when their coach took to the podium, you could forget for just a moment that Walter was on the wrong side.
McCarty spoke about his days as a Cat and said the thing that stood out the most of the connection of his teammates. “Tony Delk, Ron Mercer…they come to Evansville all the time. My team knows the bond our national championship team had.”
Meanwhile, the Cats had a lot of lessons taught to them tonight, and hopefully, they will learn from all of them. It’s just one game, it’s just November, and now the #1 ranking is no longer a monkey on their backs. So exhale and enjoy the ride, BBN.
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