LEXINGTON – Yes, the Kentucky Wildcats rolled up a lot of impressive numbers Tuesday night at Rupp Arena in a game against the Boston University Terriers, most notably in the final score, 91-57.
UK shot 59.3 percent, including 10 of 16 from three-point range, and out-rebounded the Terriers, 41-31. Freshman guard Brandon Knight scored 23 points, had six rebounds, six assists and four turnovers in 34 minutes. Freshman forward Terrance Jones had 18 points and 10 rebounds and senior center Josh Harrellson drew raves from both sides after contributing 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky improved to 5-1 while Boston U. fell to 4-4.
But all this can be tempered by this knowledge: This game was just a late November test against an inferior (though hard working) team on a cold, rainy night.
Kentucky played badly in the first half, working off some of the big-loss-to-Connecticut, Maui rust, leading Boston by just 40-33. The Wildcats made some shots early in the second half and then played like they should.
I’m not as encouraged as I normally would be this early with the thought that there is a lot of time to improve for Kentucky. Yes, it’s true that if the Wildcats stay reasonably healthy, they could make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. But you can forget the Final Four, let alone a national championship, unless the NCAA stuns everyone and rules Enes Kanter eligible after UK appeals later this week.
Outside of that, all we can say with some certainty is that Kentucky will be in the NCAA Tournament field. This won’t be a Billy Gillispie disaster.
I find Kentucky’s thin roster to be a major reason for concern. That’s no bombshell, I know, but as I watched UK dismantle Boston U Tuesday - even when the Wildcats played their best on this dreary night - I asked myself this: What will happen to this Kentucky team if Terrance Jones or Brandon Knight suffers a significant injury? For that matter, if ANY of the top seven or eight Wildcats get hurt at the wrong time, UK won’t make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It isn’t necessarily fair to this group of Wildcats, of course, to think like this. But that’s how high John Calipari has raised the bar in little more than one year at the Kentucky helm. UK is back to stay, at least as long as Cal hangs around (wonder if the Miami Heat?...well, never mind, we’ll worry about that after the season). We’re back to thinking like the likes of Ohio State and Alabama in football - win it all or label it a disappointment.
So I urge UK fans, and that includes myself, to try to enjoy the journey this season. When these Wildcats are making shots - and they are definitely a better shooting team than last year’s 35-3 bunch, I’ll give ‘em that - they are fun to watch. They were fun to watch in the second half Tuesday night, especially during the 28-5 run over the first few minutes of that period.
“All I can say is, that must have been one heck of a halftime speech,” Boston U. Coach Patrick Chambers said afterward. “That spurt the first five minutes of the second half was just crushing. We played pretty hard and then their talent and strength took over. They came out and really stuck it to us, and that’s what great teams do.”
“I thought all the threes that we took were all good shots,” said UK assistant coach John Robic, who sat in for Calipari for the pre- and post-game interview, presumably because Calipari’s mother passed over the weekend and the UK coach has better things to do than court the media during a hard time.
“We think that we are a pretty good shooting team, and the right players took the right shots, and they were open shots,” Robic added. “And when we have them, we want our guys to take them. And more times than not, they were off penetration and a kick-out, both against the zone and man-to-man.”
True. But remember, this was Boston University. Had Kentucky played last night’s first half against a team like, oh, let’s say Connecticut, UK would have been down 21, not up 7.
Let’s see if the Wildcats play like this Saturday at North Carolina (12:30 p.m. tip). Even that won’t be a tell all, because Roy Williams still doesn’t have his program back to a high level, but this game will show a lot more than Tuesday’s tilt with the Terriers.
“There’s some areas we’re going to have to address Thursday and Friday to get ready for the North Carolina game,” Robic said. “Our transition defense is going to have to be a No. 1 key because they play really fast. Our post defense is going to have to be a lot better than it was tonight because they’re big, and they force the ball low.”
This will also be UK’s first test in front of a really hostile crowd. That could come in handy come Dec. 31 at Louisville when the Wildcats will hear Air-Force-jet, fly-over-type noise.
“It’s going to be a big deal because you’re going in front of, what, 22,000 people for the first time,” Robic said of the UNC battle. “We played on the road at Portland and there were 10,000 people, which was a nice crowd, but this is truly everybody in that building, except for the 40 tickets that we get, are going to be for the other team.
“It’ll be interesting,” he added. “These are the type of games that you play for and coach for.”
As opposed to game like Tuesday’s Boston University contest, which was just a necessary piece of tedium that builds the win total and perhaps some confidence.