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Kentucky Did What OSU Couldn’t…Again

Posted by Matt on January 23, 2008

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But this time it was Tennessee.

And this time it was in basketball.

After beating Ohio State last week 74-69 at home, the #3/#5 ranked Volunteers came into Rupp Arena undefeated in the SEC and left a 66-72 loser to the Kentucky Wildcats and I just couldn’t help but reuse the headline.

It was a great win by the ‘Cats and it was the important victory I eluded to early on if the team hoped to salvage any confidence for the remainder of the season while holding Tennessee to their lowest scoring output of the season to date. Looking back at the game, the usual stars showed up for Kentucky: Patrick Patterson, Ramel Bradley, and Joe Crawford. However, not enough can be said about the play of Perry Stevenson, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times but has also remained clumsy and awkward. Perry went for 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 assists to just 2 turnovers in 37 minutes, playing exactly how the team needs him to to compliment Pat Pat in the post.

Regardless of the win, throughout the game I was noticing a few silver linings to this team regardless of what the outcome was going to be. The two facets that come to mind are free throw shooting and rebounding and the importance of both shows in the statistics: Kentucky was 24-for-28 from the charity stripe and out rebounded the Vols 36 to 27.

If you make your free throws and work hard at out rebounding the other team, especially on the offensive end, you will eventually win some ball games. The importance of these two statistics were clear in last night’s contest and I can’t help but feel like it is an improvement over years past.

Granted Morris and Rondo were never good at free throws but we now have the #1 and #2 most accurate free throw shooters in the league in Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, respectively, while Jodie Meeks is over 80% and Patrick Patterson is over 75% — which is impressive for a big man. Free throws are important, no doubt about it, and Kentucky is making theirs right now which is something that has frustrated me in the past.

But even more impressive to me is that the ‘Cats continue to out rebound their opponents, despite being undermanned in the post with, at times, four guards on the floor and Patterson playing small at center. Some of this success can be attributed to Derek Jasper, who is averaging nearly 8 rebounds a game as a guard — a sign that his knee may, in fact, be alright — and he always seems to be around a loose ball.

Again, the ‘Cats out rebounded the Vols 36 to 27, they also out rebounded Vandy and the big Aussie 45 to 25, and have kept pace with the Floridas and the Mississippi States all after losing two centers and two forwards at the the end of last season (R. Morris, L. Obrzut, B. Perry, S. Thomas).

I believe the improved rebounding comes directly from Coach Gillispie demanding more effort out of his players. In John Feinstein’s book A Season On The Brink, Bobby Knight says something to the effect of if his team isn’t getting rebounds it means they simply aren’t trying. This cannot be said for Gillispie’s team right now and that philosophy just may sum up why Kentucky is winning the rebounding battles as lack of effort has never been a complaint about this year’s squad.

If I can reference A Season On The Brink one more time it is that every great team and every great coach are going to go through their struggles. After two National Championships, an NIT title, a Pan Am games gold medal and an Olympic gold medal the summer before, Bobby Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers missed the NCAA Tournament at the end of the 1984-1985 season and were sub-.500 in the Big Ten. Now I am not suggesting that two wrongs make a right but every team struggles, it is how they handle their struggles and bounce back that shows their true character. We all know how Knight’s story ends as he’s now a 900 win coach and I hope that these ‘Cats can make last night a turning point in the season and finish the season and some of the players’ careers as strong as Knight has his.

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