Florida struck early, getting out to a 7-0 run, but the Cats responded behind Eric Bledsoe's 25 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and put away the Gators and their late charge, 89-77
. Since it's extremely late and since I'm making my triumphant return to the office tomorrow, let's just hit a few notes...
- Earlier in the week, Calipari talked on the SEC Teleconference about his greatest fear being his young team not closing out games and allowing teams to creep back in after getting them down by 12-13. Well, right on cue, the Cats let a 13-point UK margin turn into a 1-point Florida lead
before finishing the Gators off with a 17-4 run over the final 5 minutes. It is again disheartening to not see the Cats get all Mortal Kombat and “finish him!” when they have the chance, but this team has shown repeatedly that it is clutch down the stretch and they close games out then. Tonight was no different and, for that at least, you have to be pleased.
- Obviously, the big star of the game was freshman point guard Eric Bledsoe, who posted career highs in points, rebounds and assists (25, 7, 5)
against a team that heavily recruited him. Bledsoe’s offensive production and clutch shooting was huge on a night where DeMarcus Cousins struggled and John Wall didn’t seem to be his usual self. He knocked down 3-4 shots from downtown (10-13 overall) and his 15 points in the first half allowed a struggling UK team to cling to a six point halftime lead.
- Speaking of Cousins, Boogie did not have himself a great evening
. He battled foul troubles again and did not seem to be comfortable catching the ball in the post. As teams continue to double down on him, Cousins has gotten into a bad habit of stepping away or falling backwards rather than standing strong (perhaps out of fear of a foul) and it bit him several times against Florida. He bounced the ball off of a guy’s leg out of bounds three times on one possession in the second half, which has to be some sort of record. However, he did finish still manage to finish with 13 points and 5 rebounds and one very vocal tongue-lashing and benching early in the game. If he could limit the dumb fouls (like the pointless swipe on a stationary Boynton that sent him to the bench with three), he has the potential to be the most dominant player on the court. Wall included.
- One quick note on the rotation before we break it down a little more. Calipari relied heavily on his starting lineup against Florida
, which is something he really hasn’t done this year. Only Darnell Dodson and Daniel Orton logged double digit minutes off the bench and fouls by the starters factored heavily into those decisions.
- Though his appearance on the court started with DeMarcus Cousins getting ripped by Cal early and then landing in foul trouble a bit later, Daniel Orton was a man on defense again in Gainesville
. The freshman center controlled the paint with four nasty blocks and pulled down 9 rebounds. Over the past four games, Orton has played a combined 46 minutes and blocked 9 shots. Tuesday, Florida’s offense was notably different when he was in the paint. However, he again struggled offensively with 1-6 shooting and a hook shot airball.
- While he did not have his finest game on offense or defense, DeMarcus Cousins’ spin move dunk was spectacular
. I’ve dogged on him all season about having poor foot work and settling for just turning around and shooting instead of making an offensive move. However, his move tonight was phenomenal and his Kevin McHale up-and-under on Saturday was impressive, as well. You can see he’s working on it and it’s starting to pay off.
- In case you weren’t aware, Patrick Patterson was Patrick Patterson again
. 15 points, seven rebounds and 37 steady minutes played. It’s nice to have your forgotten guy doing this every night.
- We all thought we were starting to see serious signs of life from DeAndre Liggins, but #34 looked very out of sync
in six unspectacular minutes. Liggins came in and traveled twice just 5 minutes into the game and then found himself a nice seat on the bench. I don’t think we’ll hear people asking if he’ll start against Auburn.
- On a more positive note, Darius Miller looked a little better against the Gators
. Darius’ role with this team is essentially a role player, finishing when he needs to and pulling down a few rebounds and keeping the offense flowing. On Tuesday, he did it pretty nicely, playing 26 steady minutes and getting nine points and four rebounds. He also matched up with Kenny Boynton in the first half, holding him to three points.
- Also playing well on the wing was Darnell Dodson, who knocked down a huge three
with four and a half minutes left, extending UK’s lead from 74-73 to 77-73. It wasn’t spectacular, but that’s not a bad thing for Dodson who has had some issues with shot selection.
- So, the big loser in the improved play of Darius Miller and Darnell Dodson? Ramon Harris, who was non-existent
. The Alaskan Upperclassman played only five minutes, his second-lowest total of the season.
- It seems we make mention of this all the time, but it was again apparent tonight how different this team is from UK teams of the past several seasons. Florida hit three garbage threes
in the first half at critical points (two Tyus heaves and a bank from Kenny Boynton), but still found themselves up by seven points and still in control. In year’s past, the Cats would have been down 10 and the feeling of “it’s just going to be one of those nights” would have been lingering like a black cloud. It’s a nice change.
- In case you missed it, Alex Tyus was the star of the live blog
. Or, rather, his forehead and hair were the co-stars of the live blog.
- If you don’t think that Dan Werner is the absolute worst basketball player on the planet
, then I hate your guts.
Overall, it was a very good win for the Cats, although I'd disagree with Seth Davis' assessment that this is the best they've played all year. They faced another team's best effort in Gainesville and managed to find yet another way to win a close game
. That's what the special teams do and I've got a feeling that that's exactly what we're watching right now. Stay tuned as El Capitan Jones might stop by in a few with a few notes of his own. In the meantime, bask in the glow of 17-0!