John Calipari said it all along, he was more concerned about bettering UK’s NCAA tournament seed than winning the SEC tournament. Well, Coach gets to have his cake and eat it too, today. I sure hope the tournament committee was closely watching that game because Kentucky laid an absolute beat down on a very good Florida team. We’ll probably end up with a three seed but, based on the eye test after that performance, no argument can be made against us earning a two seed.
That was as complete a game as we’ve played all year. This was a new team. The way we played all through the SEC regular season consisted of runs. We go on a run and then have trouble preventing a run from the other team. The difference in this game was that even when we weren’t hitting our shots, our defense was good enough to prevent Florida from scoring as well.
I would never have expected this result after the Alabama game yesterday. So much attention was paid to the status of Doron’s ankle and the worry of having to play with five reliable bodies. Not only did Doron seem to be as healthy as usual, but we also got a great contribution off of the bench from Eloy Vargas. All season we hoped to see this kind of performance from the Cats and now is as good a time as any to start living up to preseason potential.
Six great wins leading into the NCAA tournament is exactly what this team needed.
Now the best all-around quick hitters of the season:
- Let’s start with the MVP of the SEC tournament, Darius Miller. He needed to have a big game for us to win and he did not disappoint. Darius has had better stat lines than 15 points, six rebounds and two blocks but the most profound aspect of his game was his ridiculous level of efficiency. He shot 6-8 from the field and 2-3 from beyond the arc, including a dagger halfway through the second half right in Chandler Parsons’ eye. His huge block of a fast-breaking Erving Walker was an integral part of the expansion of the first half lead that was never relinquished. UK has needed Darius to play this way all season. He was able to consistently exploit match ups against Florida, who had played us two times prior this season and had already been beaten by him once. When we get into the tournament, he’s going to be the most difficult scouting assignment for our opponents and his continued aggressiveness will be the key to making it to the second weekend.
- Also on the all-tournament team, Josh Harrellson, a prediction that no one would have made at the beginning of the season. My favorite part of Josh in the SEC tournament was his dedication to the offensive side of his game. Many times this season, he was hesitant to call for the ball and make an impact, not so in the past three games. He confidently demanded the rock and made himself an option on all of his pick and roll opportunities. Consistent play from the big guy is a must.
- The third member of the all-tournament team from UK was Brandon Knight. His outside shooting troubles were still evident as he missed a couple open looks, but his heady play has guided us in the latter part of the season. The Brandon knight from Maui is gone. In the SEC tournament, he was 14-19 from the free throw line, most all of them coming in the final two minutes, and his assist to turnover ration was 17/8. Jimmy Dykes is always quick to make comparisons between Knight and John Wall but Brandon is paving his own way as a star point guard for John Calipari.
- I’ll pair the two question marks from yesterday together again. Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins both played this game like the incidents from yesterday never happened. They were great defensively, quick in transition and reliable offensive threats. Doron moved a little gingerly on his left foot at some points, but DeAndre stepped in and provided reliable offense to cover him, especially from the free throw line where he went 7-8.
- I don’t now if it was because we were playing Florida or if it was because he is improving, but Eloy Vargas stepped in to give the best minutes of his Kentucky career. He was fighting for rebounds, asserting himself defensively, drawing fouls and scoring from the free throw line. I’ve been harsh on him in the past, but I’ve never been so proud of the big guy. I’d love to see this play continue into the NCAA tournament.
- A newcomer to quick hitters: Coach John Calipari. He had the team prepared and ready to go today. Their execution was crisp and they totally exploited Florida on offense and defense. Calipari doesn’t get enough credit for his in-game coaching abilities. Today, he put Billy Donovan to shame.
- Last but not least, is Terrence Jones. He has struggled the entire SEC tournament, but he stepped up today in two of the most important areas for him: defensively and from the foul line. He had three blocks and shot 7-8 from the charity stripe and the best part of both of those accomplishments was that he gained confidence from them. He had been hanging his head too much after missed shots, but today he contributed from start to finish and he did it with energy. He even drained a three pointer as the shot clock was expiring! I was very happy with Terrence’s performance today. He needs to realize that he can’t disappear even if he’s not scoring. On a semi-related note, his shot fake from behind the arc that got Patric Young airborne may have been the funniest thing I’ve seen all season. I hope that wasn’t in the scouting report.
This team has a lot of confidence going into the most important part of the year. They have the talent to make a deep run. It’s an exciting time to be a Kentucky fan and I hope the best times of the season are just beginning.