That was some good revenge, I mean real good revenge. There’s revenge: Hamlet, The Eumenides, O.J. Simpson, etc. Then there’s Kentucky revenge. At halftime, I think most of the Big Blue Nation expected this game to be a bout of painful deja vu. We weren’t getting any calls in the first half and West Virginia was hitting shots that the percentages said they shouldn’t hit. However, if last season’s meeting was an example of Huggins outcoacing Calipari, this game is the exact opposite. Cal made the perfect adjustments and keyed the huge Kentucky comeback win.
I’ll get to the individual performances in the quick hitters, but I’m going to briefly address the nature of this team as a whole. Earlier in the season, we crumbled under pressure and had trouble bouncing back after big runs by the other team. That’s not the case anymore, though. On Thursday, we beat Princeton after being down by five with about eight minutes left in the game. Today, we beat a tough West Virginia team that we trailed by eight at halftime. The ability to grind out tough wins against teams that are playing well speaks to the maturity and toughness of this young team. We may have a lot of freshmen, but those freshmen are playing with as much composure as any upperclassman in the country.
The officiating was definitely questionable throughout the game but one thing that perplexed me was the attitude of the refs toward Joe Mazzulla. They were giving him calls like he was Michael Jordan and swallowing their whistles when he returned the same level of physicality to us. Mazzulla Set his career high of 17 against us last year, his previous career high of 18 this season against Louisville and finished his career with a new career high of 20 against us today. I don’t know what it is about the state of Kentucky, but you have to assume if he played teams from the Commonwealth more often, he’d be an All-American and on his way to the Hall of Fame.
- I’m starting these with Josh Harrellson. Josh stepped up big time and, aside from an embarrassing free throw percentage, once again infused this team with the passion we needed to win. He worked like an absolute beast on the offensive glass in the second half and continued to assert himself as a go to guy on offense. Josh has grown immensely throughout the course of this season and he is beginning to shine.
- Josh was my MVP but Brandon Knight gets the nod as my MAP or most amazing player or just map. Brandon Knight guided us to victory with a career high 30 points! That’s 15 times what he got against Princeton. Brandon was driving and scoring, shooting threes and scoring and drawing defenders so he could pass the ball to teammates which led to… scoring! If Brandon plays like this in the Sweet Sixteen, this team may match the Cats from last season with an Elite Eight appearance.
- As for everyone else, Eloy came in and got an offensive rebound then shoved Mazzulla with no subsequent call. Both of those things are awesome, the latter much more than the former though.
-DeAndre provided some great defense on nearly every member of West Virginia’s roster, he hit a three, grabbed nine rebounds, dished four assists and tallied two blocks, in addition to acting as the secondary ball handler when Brandon was running off screens. DeAndre stepped up.
- Terrence stepped up too. The scorer from the beginning of the season seems to be gone but he worked hard on the glass and hustled after a ball to keep a key possession alive late in the game. He finished with 12 and 10, didn’t force any dumb shots and played with passion and desire. You can’t really ask for anything more out of him.
- Doron was short on a couple of his jumpers and spent the game in foul trouble but he had a big six points on an and one drive in the first half and a huge three after a dish from Knight in the second half. Look for him to pick up his play after some good rest before the Sweet Sixteen.
- Darius. Darius, Darius, Darius. What happened? You were playing so well and then you disappeared. Everyone thought that Darius would need to step up big for us to win. I think that’s still true. Luckily, we were able to pull this one out, but Brandon isn’t going to be scoring 30 each game.
All in all, it’s good to win. It’s especially good to win against West Virginia.
We’re excited to be off to Newark now…
First time that’s ever been said.