Did anybody else have a serious case of Deja Vu on Monday night?
I know I speak for most of the fanbase when I say that we miss the Cats that departed last year but this really isn’t the best way to pay homage to them.
The Cats coupled an early shooting slump with poor defense and a refusal to close out on three-point shots to dig themselves into a 12-point hole with five minutes left in the first half.
Much like the Miami of Ohio and Sam Houston State games from last year, a no-name player stepped up and had the best game of his career. Tyler Bernardini started channeling his inner Nick Winbush and Corey Allmond to turn in a 22-point performance on 3-4 shooting from beyond the arc. For a guy averaging seven points per game and shooting 18 percent from the three-point line, I’d say that’s a pretty good outing.
However, these aren’t the same Cats from last year.
With three minutes left in the first half, Doron Lamb was fouled as he made a layup and, with the completion of his three-point play, the Cats never looked back. From that point, they outscored the Quakers 65-30 and dominated in such a convincing fashion that most of us forgot that only an hour earlier we were worried about taking an Ivy league loss into conference play.
A lot of people are going to look at this game and cite the initial struggles as a hangover from the Louisville game or the trap nature of the contest with the SEC and a tough game in Athens on the horizon, but that’s not the case.
Penn deserves all the credit. They came in with a game plan and perfectly executed it. They knew they wouldn’t be able to contend with us on the boards but if they made their threes and played good trap defense then they could hang in the game and that’s what they did. For the first half, Penn was the better team. UK had more talented players but the Quakers flat outperformed them.
It won’t be the case for everyone in the SEC, but if we come out flat like we did against Vandy or Tennessee then we’ll probably wind up with a loss. I think that a scare like this will do good things for the team. Last year’s team had plenty of early season scares and I think those games helped to pull out the win against Mississippi State in the SEC championship game. They knew what is was like to play down and they confidently knew that they could win the game in the face of that.
Despite the impressive stat lines compiled by Josh (12 points, 11 rebounds, 6 blocks) and Darius (11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), my star of the game was Brandon Knight. He gets the smoothest 20 point games I’ve ever seen. He currently has seven of them through fourteen contests and he’s never seemed to dominate the game in any of them. His play is so patient and efficient, he helps to make the other players on the team look like the stars.
Now the non-conference slate is through. The SEC has been in a disarray all season and UK will have to play with fire every game to avoiding falling into a lull against less talented opponents. The Cats will need near perfection to claim a number one seed in the tournament come March and will have a big test of their worthiness against Georgia on Saturday.
I’m not especially worried, though. In most regards, these aren’t the same Cats from last year, but there’s one definite similarity.
These Cats know how to win.