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Greg Wahl-Stephens – AP
Defense was the key to Kentucky’s win tonight.
Some people, like my wife, don’t like blowouts. I love them.
Thanks to the Portland Pilots for the invitation out west, and the hard and gutsy game they played against us. They will not be happy when they look at this tape, because they will find that they allowed Kentucky to mentally dominate them in the early going. The K E N T U C K Y across the chest of the boys in Blue and White is well recognized, and the Portland Pilots were far too “up” for this game. They exhausted themselves early, and Kentucky cruised to an easy victory.
I don’t want to minimize the great game that UK played. It was, unquestionably, one of the best early-season games that any Kentucky team has played in many years. Despite the lopsided outcome, Portland is a very good basketball team that just ran up against a UK team that did everything right — from sticky, almost impermeable defense on the perimeter, to an impressive victory on the glass. Portland was 3-0 coming in to this game, and none of them were even close.
Portland is a skilled and impressive program for its size, and if anyone thinks this was just another UK pounding of an inferior opponent, you know nothing about college basketball. Portland is not in danger of cracking the top 25, but they are a quality program playing in a near-home arena against a team that had to travel 3,000 miles to play them.
For me, this was an impressive victory for a team full of mid and upperclassmen, let alone mostly freshmen. Here are my observations:
- Game ball — DeAndre Liggins. He didn’t score much, but he completely invalidated Portland’s best shooter, rendering him utterly impotent. Liggins did it with class, ease, and effort. It was impressive in the extreme.
- Josh Harrellson had a terrific game. He had at least 11 rebounds, and was always involved in the middle. He made a mistake or two, but overall, played like a senior.
- Love me some Brandon Knight. He managed to both score and deliver the ball this game, and his defense was excellent.
- Doron Lamb is the silent assassin of this team. Twice, Portland came down and made a three, and both times, Lamb answered with one of his own. This kid has a feel for the dramatic, and has a knack for making huge plays look effortless.
- Darius Miller was just exactly what the Wildcats needed him to be tonight — terrific.
- Terrance Jones did not have one of his best shooting games, but he was always in the play, he rebounded, and generally played hard. And well.
- Eloy Vargas had some good moments. I was pretty happy with what he did.
- Jon Hood hustled, but could have done more. He was strong with the ball, and that is something.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with Kentucky this game. There just isn’t a lot to criticize, and not having seen the stats, my impression is that this team played their best game of the year tonight, particularly defensively. This was far and away the best defensive performance we have seen from this team in any game, including Canada. Offensively, it was very good, but the defense is what has been lacking. Tonight, it lacked little.
I’m not a fan of the long trip to Portland, but it will do this team good to know they can handle a talented team this far away from home. In Maui, the teams will be far more talented, and the distance even farther.
But for now, a great victory.