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Eugene Tanner – AP
DeAndre Liggins just keeps getting better and better. He still makes a few bad decisions, but he could defend Kobe Bryant.
Many Washington Huskies fans had been waiting anxiously for a shot at the Kentucky Wildcats in Maui after two former Husky recruits changed their pledge to the Wildcats. The old saying, “Be careful what you wish for,” comes immediately to mind. Some times, wishes come true, but the desired outcome doesn’t.
The Huskies gave an outstanding effort in a ridiculously physical game. The problem was, their guards did not deliver like they had been so far this year, partially because they finally ran up against a team athletic enough to defend them at least most of the time. Washington deserves great credit for coming back from a big early deficit to take the smallest of leads at the half. But as coaches are so fond of pointing out, the most insignificant score of all is the halftime score.
In the end, Kentucky did just enough to eke out a close win against a worthy and talented opponent. I was very impressed with the athleticism of Washington. They tired out this UK team like no other team I have seen, and at the end, it was purely a battle of attrition, and you’d have to figure that UK would be in tough in a grind-it-out game due to their shallow bench, and the deep bench of the Huskies. But this young Kentucky team is made up mostly of players who are used to winning tough games, and to them, this was just one more.
This was an entertaining early-season game, particularly in the early stages when both teams were playing at break-kneck speed. It slowed down in the second half due to sheer fatigue and good defense by both squads, but it was thrilling throughout and in doubt up until the last minute. This was always likely to be a tough, physical and close game, and what we saw was what we should have expected.
- John Calipari — I don’t give many kudos to Coach Cal, but he really earned his pay this game. If he keeps working this hard on the sideline, he may drop those extra pounds he picked up from mama’s pasta this summer. Caliipari did a great job of motivating these young guys and keeping their heads in the game.
- Terrence Jones was a full-grown man out there tonight. When Jones came to UK, he was timid and wanted to stay on the perimeter. Credit this young man for taking his coach’s instructions so fast, because over a period of five games including two exhibitions, Jones has turned into the reincarnation of Patrick Patterson. He does need to work on that shooting form, though, it’s no good as it is.
- Darius Miller played a better game than people might think. It wasn’t really a praiseworthy game, but he defended well and rebounded pretty well in short minutes, and made some big free throws, something that UK did poorly again tonight.
- Brandon Knight burned more calories tonight than I have in six months, and despite taking some bad shots and making some forced plays, he was the difference between victory and defeat tonight. Game ball.
- How great were the Kentucky fans? You thought the Lahaina Civic Center had been hit by a Big Blue tsunami.
- Josh Harrellson, despite turning the ball over a ton with drops, fumbles, stumbles, and general clumsiness, really played extremely well, and made some huge plays. If we could get this out of him every game, we might go undefeated.
- Eloy Vargas is coming along faster than I dared hope, and how big were those free throws he made near the end when nobody could make them for Kentucky?
- Jon Hood made a huge play near the end, grabbing an offensive rebound and making a little shovel pass to Harrellson for a layup.
- How is it possible that Harrellson played all those minutes and didn’t draw one foul?
- I was screaming “Dead-ball contact technical foul!” at the monitor on the Liggins collision. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. How cool was Liggins for just getting up and walking straight to the bench without a word, or a gesture, or anything. This kid is a Spartan in spirit.
- Speaking of DeAndre Liggins, can he shut you down, or can’t he? Ask Isaiah Thomas.
- Doron Lamb made some huge free throws, and had his moments. They were a bit fewer and further between than they have been in recent games.
- I did mention that UK shot free throws badly? But they made them when it really mattered.
Big win for the Wildcats, and the Big Blue Nation. Now, we know this team is legitimate, even as currently constituted. Are we Final Four contenders?
We just took a big step in that direction, because this is a high-quality team we just defeated on a neutral site.