The Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers faced off today for the first and only time this yer. The Wildcats came out with a much-needed victory over their long time rivals. With this win the Wildcats highlighted some very good things that could mean a lot as the season advances but also let some of those annoying issues come back and haunt them at times. In the game the game the Wildcats showed resilience; a problem with young teams; smarter play, great guard play, and for the first time this year good free throw shooting. Along with those good things they let that annoying bug of starting slow really bother them the first half. The Wildcats really seem to be showing some big strides only four games into conference play.
Lets just get the biggest and most impressive stat out-of-the-way, the Wildcats shot twenty-three of twenty-four from the FREE THROW line! Before today the Wildcats had been sixty-five percent from the charity stripe all year. Today they improved their season total by two percent. I know that doesn’t sound like a big number by any means but improving by two percent over one game is a pretty big mark. What really could make a lot of cat fans happy is that Julius Randle was six for six from the stripe. For a big man who tends to get beat up a lot this could be a huge sign. Was the free throw shooting today the team Calapari said he had seen in practice all year? We’ll have to see against their next opponents, the Aggies of Texas A&M.
Another great sign from the game against the Volunteers was the guard play of the Harrison twins but especially Andrew Harrison. All year people around the nation have been criticizing the guard play of this team saying that the twins might not actually as good as they were supposed to be. I think Andrew Harrison might have shut up some of his critics today. Andrew poured in a whopping 26 points off of 7-13 shooting, 10-10 from the line, and also contributed 3 assists and two rebounds and ZERO turnovers. If this is the Andrew Harrison we will get to see for the rest of the season I think we’ll all be happy. Kentucky for the day only had turnover and most of those came early.
The team really did a lot of great things today, but the one thing that really should make Big Blue Nation happy was their ability to keep fighting . Even though for the past couple of years we’ve been blessed with great talent we haven’t always been blessed with players who fought till the end but today our young Wildcats showed us they were willing to do that for their coach and fans. The game started out with a 6-0 run by Tennessee which isn’t something the fans wanted to see. Until around the 2:30 mark the team was playing from behind but they stuck to their coach’s plan and at the beginning of the second half executed it to perfection. They didn’t resort to tossing up shots to get the lead, they played smart and really worked their way to a much deserved victory.
Much of what has been said about the game has been sweet but what’s sweet without a little sour? The sour for the Wildcats today was that slow start bug that has bugged them all year. All year we’ve picked on the young guys for turning over the ball, shooting free throws, and giving up but today they did none of that. They fixed all their problems beside the slow start bug. This team is really on the rise and is showing some amazing improvements but if they really want to start dominating they need to start getting out of gate and beating teams from the get go.
And I am willing to give the team a pass for the poor interior play. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maynon are a tremendous duo and could be the toughest rebounders Kentucky will face this year. Kentucky got whipped on the boards and were down 26-10 in rebounds when Calipari pulled Randle and Cauley-Stein. From that point on, Kentucky out rebounded Tennessee 14-13 the rest of the way. Dakari Johnson gets big props there.
Today, January 18, the Wildcats beat that evil orange team Tennessee. They did a lot of good and very little bad. Big Blue Nation really can say they are proud of this team for how they played today and the players should be proud of themselves. They moved to 2-0 , unless you consider UNC a rival, in rivalry games this year. The guys are showing that they really want to make the best out of this season and we’ll see if the ceiling just keeps rising for them when they play A&M.