UK downs Vandy, 85-72

 During the requested time, Dr. Steven Hochman, assistant to for

My apologies for taking so long to get this to you, but a combination of work and internet troubles last night forced me to delay this post until today.  I think by now there’s no real reason for a ‘recap,’ seeing how everyone’s seen the game and read/heard/seen the reactions from every medium across the  board.  Let’s get to the stuff that matters:

– Everyone talked about yesterday’s game being one that we’d learn a lot from regarding this Kentucky team.  Would they come out sluggish and sloppy?  Or would they be eager to show the country that last game’s loss to South Carolina was the fluke?  Calipari himself even said he wasn’t sure how this team would respond. Suffice it to say, they responded they way you’d expect a great team to respond–by storming out of the gates early and imposing their will inside on the undermanned Commodores.  DeMarcus Cousins destroyed A.J. Ogilvy inside (more on that in a moment), and Patrick Patterson, though not in the way I’d anticipated, got involved in the offense again, knocking down 3-of-4 treys on his way to 12 points (we’ll have more on him, too).  Keep in mind that all of this came against a strong Vanderbilt squad that had just knocked off Tennessee and came into the game ranked 23rd in the nation.  I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again:  When this team is hitting their outside shots, there’s not a team in the nation that can keep up.  They just have too much offensive firepower to defend.

– DeMarcus Cousins continues to amaze me.  He came into the season as a raw talent that most people were expecting to be an excellent third option to John Wall and Patrick Patterson, and he’s emerged as a skilled post-player as well as our go-to guy on offense.  Cousins finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds yesterday, his 12th double-double of the season (good for a UK freshman record).  He added two steals and a block on the defensive end, and was a huge part of that early Wildcat surge, scoring eight of the first ten Kentucky points while sending Vandy’s Ogilvy to the bench in foul trouble with 12:21 left to go in the first half.  He is, at this point, Kentucky’s best and most consistent offensive threat. He has the best motor (to steal one of Jay Bilas’ favorite basketball phrases) on the team, he brings the intensity every night, and you’re starting to get the sense that as he goes, so goes the rest of this team.  He’s definitely got some anger management issues–which popped up a couple more times today–but that’s the sort of thing you’ve just got to accept with a player like Cousins. You take the bad with the good and just hope the latter outweighs the former.  So far it is.  And so far, or at least right now, he’s the best player on Kentucky’s team.

– Patrick Patterson’s involvement in the offense is still frustrating to watch.  I’m convinced that the majority of it is due to a combination of Calipari and Cousins, with the coach’s offense only having room for one true big man, and the freshman’s emergence as one of the best big men in college basketball making him the man for the job.  Patterson’s outside shot has developed nicely–as evidenced by his 3-for-4 shooting performance from long range yesterday–and he’s accepted his diminished role with the sort of grace and aplomb we’ve come to accept from one of the all-time greats at Kentucky.  In a lot of ways, Patterson’s made the ultimate sacrifice for this team.  He altered his game in ways that he thought would make him a better fit for his new coach’s offense (and it has), only to watch the newcomers get the majority of his shots inside–where he made his living before–and see that part of his game (his bread and butter) disappear completely.  Maybe I’m talking a little bit to morbidly about the whole thing, but at this point in the season it’s hard to imagine Patterson becoming any larger a part of the offense than he currently is, which I personally don’t think is in Kentucky’s best interests.  With that said, there’s only one ball and so many shots to go around, and both Cousins and Wall (especially the former) seem to do better with more touches.  Patterson has a maturity to accept this role that I’m not sure either of them currently has, and maybe Calipari sees that, and maybe that’s the way it’s got to be.

– I toyed with the idea of writing a ‘Darnell Dodson needs to start against Vanderbilt’ post this week, but I thought that I already gave Darius Miller enough hassle over his play against South Carolina in my post Tuesday night, and that I was probably overreacting just a bit considering it was just one poor performance.  As it turns out, Dodson did start today, although it wasn’t for Miller.  Dodson started in place of Eric Bledsoe, for some reason, and while both of them had solid games (Dodson finished with 16 on 4-of-8 3-point shooting; Bledsoe finished with 13), Miller dropped another dud, finished with zero points on just one shot attempt in a grand total of eight minutes of action.  At this point, I don’t really know what Calipari can do with Miller.  He’s ostensibly a starter because he’s the most well-rounded of all the small forwards we have on the roster (himself, Dodson, Liggins, Harrris, and Hood, if you want to throw him in there), but he’s giving us by far the least.  He’s scared to shoot (0-1 FG against Vandy) while Dodson is not (5-10 FG, 4-8 3-PT), he’s not getting into the lane or to the rim like Liggins is (Liggins finished with nine points and shot six free throws against Vandy), and while their offensive numbers against Vandy are close to identical (both went 0-for-1 from the field, while Harris finished with one rebound and Miller handed out two assists), Harris has a defensive rep that Miller lacks.  What I’m saying is, when he’s on, Miller may be the best combination of outside shooting, penetration, and defense that the Wildcats have amongst their threes, but at right now he’s not giving them any of those with consistency.  What complicates Miller’s situation even more is his notoriously shaky confidence, which leads you to believe that a benching would be the worse thing in the world for.  Nobody wants to crush Miller’s ego, rather we just want to give it a little shake, or a jump start.  What the best way to go about that is, I do not know.

– With all that said, I like the idea of Dodson starting.  Whether it’s for Miller or for Bledsoe, he seems to shoot the ball better when he gets more minuets, and Bledsoe seemed to do just fine coming in in relief for him yesterday.  Kentucky’s bench has been a weak spot for their offense all year, and it’s possible that a little lineup jostling may help remedy that.

LeBron James enjoys a moment at the Kentucky game against Vanderbilt. This is the first game the Cats are wearing his new brand of shoes. (By Scott Utterback, The Courier-Journal)

– As everyone knows by now, LeBron James was in Rupp Arena yesterday, and, well, I’ll just go ahead and say it: How fucking cool was that?  Seeing James on the sideline decked out in his blue and white (or gray, for which we’ll give him a pass) was one of the coolest things I’ve seen at Rupp in a long time.  Don’t get me wrong.  Ashley Judd is hot and her UK alliance is impressive, but seeing a guy of James stature rooting on the Cats is just something else.  It’s been a long time since Kentucky’s been a cool team.  You probably have to go back to ’96, because even though we’ve had some good teams since, they were of the more blue-collar, workmanlike variety, which doesn’t necessarily equate with what we’re dealing with now.  We should enjoy it while it lasts.  As the last decade has shown us, this trendiness doesn’t always happen often.

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