Closing the book on the regular season finale...

Thomas Beisnerover 10 years


Aritcle written by:Thomas BeisnerThomas Beisner
bruce-pearl-last-game  - The big theme of the day was the Cats ridding themselves of the demons that have haunted them in conference play this season by winning another close game and by doing it on the road.  It's a little like cramming before a huge exam, but the light has finally come one for Kentucky in close games, as they've found a way to close in three straight.  It hasn't always been pretty or easy, but they've found a way to do so.  Today, it was coming back from a one-point deficit and making defensive stops and knocking down free throws.  Coach Cal took it a step further after the game, saying that the Cats "grew up" by improving their play after a slow start.  Heading into the postseason, that development is certainly welcomed.  - With the offense struggling mightily in the first half, the Cats were able to count on defense and only entered the half down seven, despite only reaching 22 points.  Going on the road and being able to withstand that type of start by buckling down on defense and keepin the game from becoming 15-20 points says a lot.  It's progress and a great sign heading into the tournament.   <----this is a theme of this post  - Obviously, the big key to the game was the 18-4 run to start the second half after the offense looked downright horrendous throughout the first half.  After the game, Calipari was asked what he said to his troops to inspire them during halftime.  Cal said it had very little to do with execution or their gameplan.  It was all challenging their competitive spirit.  And it wasn't "friendly".  Whatever it was, it worked.   - We talked about this earlier in the week, but this game was the final piece of a three-game stretch that was an interesting study in team psyche and momentum.  Kentucky entered the final three games off a loss that pushed them to 1-6 on the road in conference and had to beat the three best teams in their division and hope for some help in order to get a bye.  Even after the momentum started developing with wins over Florida and Vanderbilt, there was opportunity for the bottom to fall out with another road loss in Knoxville.  Instead, the Cats finished with a bang and can now be reasonably perceived as the favorites in the SEC Tournament.  Think back to just a week and a half ago and that seems insane.   - ELOY!  ELOY! ELOY!  In what could be most celebrated seven minutes ever, Eloy Vargas came in and contributed 3 points, a rebound and a block in a critical stretch of the game.  After the game, Calipari was so excited that he Tweeted about it.  If he can give 5-10 minutes like that every game, it will be like adding another player to the roster.  ELOY!  - Without getting too deep into player-by-player breakdowns, a pretty consistent theme among the Cats was the second life they showed in the final five minutes of the game after being non-factors throughout.  Josh Harrellson was probably the most obvious example as he struggled with foul trouble, turnovers (two of the worst passes I've ever seen) and ineffectiveness on the boards for the entire game before grabbing all five of his rebounds in the final three minutes.  Terrence Jones again struggled, shooting 3-15 and never getting into a rhythm, but came up big late with rebounding and free throws.  Just as changing the way they played as a team after the opening tip was progress, so was the ability of their key players to bounce back from off-games late.  That's what winning teams do.  - Again, Brandon Knight proved himself to be the closest thing to a go-to guy that they have.  In fact, he just proved that again that that's exactly who he is.  The Cats clearly were looking for someone to take charge with the offense struggling, Knight stepped up, pouring in 11 of UK's points in their 20-4 run, which came after he did not score a point until seven seconds remained in the first half.  You have to feel confident in Kentucky's ability to count on Knight in the postseason.  - Sunday's game was also another sign of the ever-improving confidence of Darius Miller.  The junior from Maysville made the team's final field goal - a three-pointer that pushed the Cats ahead four with three minutes to go - and displayed his newfound swagger in taking a shot with 31 seconds left and the Cats up only one.  He missed, but it's clear that he's not shying away from the spotlight in crunchtime anymore.  Again, more progress.  - On a final note, after he made free throws down the stretch in a win over Vanderbilt, Scotty Hopson told reporters, "I've got big balls, man."  After shooting 2-10 against UK, I say we dub him Scotty Smallballs.  And we make signs.  Yes, Scotty Smallballs, it is. That's it for now.  Be back in a few with more.  Until then, enjoy the draw... sec-tournament-bracket-20111

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