“Every good team I’ve been on here has had a moment, a game, where the light came on and everything just clicked,” Hood said. “We took off from there and never looked back."
That's a quote from senior Jon Hood in Jason King's behind-the-scenes article on Kentucky basketball for BleacherReport.com. Perhaps Saturday's heart-stopping win over LSU will turn out to be that game.
The half-empty glass take is that Kentucky was all-out to beat a double-digit underdog in Rupp Arena. But this was just the kind of game a team has to win to make a run in March--against a team that matches up well with your team's strengths, on a day when shots weren't falling.
We've said before that improvement on defense was mandatory for any postseason success and it's happening. Kentucky has held six consecutive opponents to 70 points or less in regulation--the longest stretch all season. All six foes made fewer than 45 percent of their shots--again, the longest such streak of the season. In the first game against LSU, the Tigers made 51 percent of their shots. Yesterday, the Cats held them to 40 percent.
During Saturday's pregame show, Oscar Combs made a great point--UK's stretches of good play are getting longer. Continuing that trend is what it will take for the Wildcats to have a chance to get to Dallas for the Final Four.
Another thing I liked about last week's games was the growth we're seeing in Julius Randle.
At Ole Miss, he dominated a game that Kentucky needed, on the heels of the loss to Florida. And when the Rebels' late run got them within six, it was Randle who scored a contested basket in the paint to stem the tide. John Calipari said in our postgame interview that he considered calling timeout but he saw a look in Randle's eyes that told him the big fella would take care of business.
Coming off that big game and facing an LSU team that held him to a season-low six points, the Randle from earlier this season might have taken the matchup as a personal one, to send the Tigers a message about that performance in January. A more mature Randle instead opted not to force things in a matchup that wasn't favorable for him to score big. He committed only one turnover, blocked two shots and was a beast on the boards, including the game-winning put back. And did you notice late in overtime how Randle demanded to be the one to guard Johnny O'Bryant. First, he forced O'Bryant into a turnover and then after walling up O'Bryant in the low post--leading to an Aaron Harrison blocked shot--it was Randle who snatched the loose ball out of the traffic. Those are winning plays in a close game like that one.
Finally, another encouraging sign from this Kentucky win was the pure joy we saw when Andrew Harrison talked Randle after the final buzzer sounded. This hasn't been the most demonstrative group and to see that kind of team celebration suggests the themes on which Calipari has consistently dwelled have started to get through.
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