As JC said in his preview: if you come at the king you better not miss. The Texas Longhorns took a shot at the #1 team in the country & missed by a narrow margin, losing to the Kentucky Wildcats 63-51 & halting Texas' winning streak at 7. The game rarely had any flow, in part because of the stifling defense by both teams and in part because the refs seemed unable to adapt their officiating for a game with 12-16 guys who will be getting paid to play ball in 3 years. This was big boy basketball, and the refs were calling fouls like they were getting paid by the free throw attempt. Let's get to it, shall we?
- This Texas team is mentally tough. After playing to a tie in the first half, Kentucky kicked it into another gear and scored 10 unanswered points. Eventually Kentucky would push the lead to as high as 16. Some previous Texas teams might have gotten down on themselves & let this turn into a 20+ point beatdown, but this squad turned in a 11-2 run & eventually cut the lead to 5. While this squad won't be racing out to a 17-0 mark(17-1 is possible, FWIW), they're also not in danger of melting down like that squad, either. I was about ready to write this team off for the night halfway through the 2nd half, but they proved me and most of the country wrong by continuing to fight hard. That kind of mental toughness & physical effort will win a lot of games this year.
- Texas' 2-3 zone is stout. They anticipate well, they rotate well, and they do a solid job keeping the guy in the paint from penetrating if/when he gets the ball at the top of the key. While I don't expect it to be this good against most teams - one of Kentucky's few weaknesses is how bad they are from 3 - it still is a much more viable zone than most teams. It frustrated Kentucky and I wouldn't be surprised if UK sees more zone the rest of the year.
- Rick Barnes coached a hell of a game. He called timeouts early trying to break up potential runs, he picked a good defense to frustrate UK, and his substitutions were generally well-timed. I can't think of much he did wrong; he made decisions that affected the outcome negatively, but they were all defensible. Pulling Jonathan Holmes 15 seconds into the 2nd when he picked up his 3rd foul was a reasonable call; his management of Felix(more on this shortly) was about as proactive as you can be with Taylor out, and he rotated bigs in as best as he could given the foul trouble he was dealing with. Barnes has his flaws at times, but he was on point tonight.
- Javan Felix is no longer Barnes' wooby. Felix ended up with 25 minutes, but he only ran point for maybe 12-15 minutes tonight. It was obvious to most watching this game that Felix was out of his depth in this game; he was getting hounded by Kentucky's superior length and at times it looked like somebody's little brother trying to play backyard ball with his older brother's bigger friends. No amount of moxie™ was going to fix the size deficiency Felix had in this game and Barnes recognized it early. Felix was resigned mostly to the bench and giving Holland/Yancy a breather until late in the game when things were getting desperate. Even then, Felix spent as much time off the ball as running point. If this is the beginning of Felix turning into a poor man's AJ Abrams, Texas is the better for it. Even if he doesn't, credit needs to go to Barnes for being willing to adapt to the situation in real-time.
- Demarcus Holland is now the backup point guard for Texas. I'm going to repeat that because it's a fairly stunning development: Demarcus Holland is now the backup point guard for Texas, or at least he should be. Holland ran the point for a plurality(if not majority) of the game and he acquitted himself well. It wasn't until the last minute of the game that Holland had his first turnover. Demarcus Holland played 37 minutes of turnover-free basketball against the best defensive team in the NCAA, a team that snags a steal on 13% of their defensive possessions. You want a moral victory? Texas' backup PG had 5 assists against 1 turnover tonight. Oh, and he was 5-5 from the line while still providing the shutdown defense he's known for. Tip of the cap to Holland for an impressive performance.
- This might have been Prince Ibeh's best game of the year. It feels weird to say when he only accounted for 6 points & 4 rebounds, but he was active on both ends and drew fouls on Kentucky's bigs better than anyone else on the team. If he'd stop trying to bank his free throws off the Hindenburg, he might have made more than 2-8 from the line. Still, good on him for a solid effort in the paint against the toughest bigs he'll face all year.
I'm making a 'mixed bag' note for Cameron Ridley. I liked his aggressiveness from the get-go; he was battling in the paint against some future NBA players and was establishing position early, and I think if the refs would've let a little more contact go(for both sides) in the low post we would've seen more from Cam. It was there early, he was fighting his ass off. Unfortunately, the refs were calling a tight game and Cam never adjusted. He's still not seeing the perimeter players well when he's double-teamed and once his aggressiveness was gone he became a non-factor. 2 shots, 1 point, and 5 turnovers is basically begging Barnes to hand his minutes to someone else.
- Myles Turner was in over his head. I had some hopes for him this game because of his mobility and his familiarity with some of the Kentucky players he's played AAU ball against, but he didn't have it tonight. Other thn hitting his 4 free throws, he was pretty quiet. He needs more muscle to battle these guys in the paint, so I expect him to win more of these battle in the NBA than he did tonight. If nothing else, tonight was a good reminder why people stopped comparing him to Kevin Durant.
- The refs. Jesus, these refs. I mean, I guess give credit that they were calling the game equally badly on both teams(Texas had 29 FTAs to Kentucky's 30), but they were out of their depth calling a game with this kind of size & talent. They were calling all sorts of stuff that flustered both the fans and the players. And can we talk about Holmes' Flagrant 1? HORSE. SHIT. I'm not going to say the refs kept Texas from winning because they were pretty equal opportunity in their terribleness, just that their officiating kept this game from being anything resembling the game we were all hoping for. I wish Texas & Kentucky could replay this game at a local YMCA with no refs around; I'd pay $100 to sit in on that game in a heartbeat.
- Kendall Yancy is a foal running around the farm. It's like he doesn't understand the size of his own feet sometimes; he has these spastic moments at random intervals that make it look like he's wearing shoes 2 sizes too big. I'm not going to hammer the kid because the effort is there; he's busting his ass trying to contribute, he's just not under control often enough. I hope he learns better body control, because if he can then he and Holland are going to make Bill Self have night sweats. He'll be fumbling around in the dark for his toupee, silently sobbing at the idea of Texas having 3 perimeter guards to attack him.
It's hard to be mad about an outcome that was expected by most Texas & Kentucky fans(not to mention that dual-bandwagon SOB, jc25). If anything, this game showed that Texas deserves the hype they're getting. It also shows just how incredible this Kentucky squad is. Kentucky has a gear nobody else in the country has. This might be the first team I've seen that warrants being talked about in the same breath as the UNLV squads of the early 90s. I still think the discussion about them beating the 76ers is silly, but they're definitely the top team in the country at this point.