John Clay: Wildcats show off their scary potential

Awesome talent in search of a team

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 16, 2011 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

NEW YORK — The kids are all right.

We knew that, of course, but it's nice to get some Big Apple confirmation, against a ranked team, on a big stage, with everyone watching, and a little adversity to boot.

First half, Kentucky's young talented team played like young, talented individuals.

For stretches of the second half, they played like the NBA stars, on an NBA floor, they will be one day, only as a team.

Kentucky isn't a finished product.

But man, just wait until it is a finished product.

Before Tuesday night's headline attraction of the inaugural Champions Classic, Kansas Coach Bill Self described Kentucky as being "scary athletic." In the second half, that turned out to be prophetic. At least for a deciding stretch, the Cats played long and lean, hungry and mean.

Anthony Davis went on swat control, helping the Cats block 13 shots.

"They are long," said Self afterward. "I don't know that there's anyone around that's longer than those Cats."

"It's nice when you can block shots," said UK Coach John Calipari after No. 2 Kentucky's 75-65 win over the 12th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks.

Doron Lamb, in his Queens back yard, found his New York groove in the second half, nailing three-pointers. Not bad for a guy with an injured left eye.

Terrence Jones took it to Kansas' Thomas Robinson in a personal battle. Robinson had failed to respond when asked during the week about guarding Jones, and in the end he had little response between the lines either. Kansas' best player ended up fouling out.

After committing six turnovers in the first half, freshman point guard Marquis Teague shook it off the second half, took the ball straight to the Jayhawks and got the offense going.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't contribute a lot to the stat sheet, but he does the intangible in spades.

Darius Miller, the old man, the senior, came on in the second half, scoring on a muscle move inside on one sequence.

"First half, we had guys trying to do their own thing," said Calipari, who added later, "Did we look coached in the first half?"

It's when they put those "own things" together that this team can be something special.

This is a little different Calipari team than the first two he's had at Kentucky. Each player brings a little something different to the table, from Davis' length, to Lamb's shooting, to Jones' ability, to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's intensity.

When Calipari was asked afterward if this was his most talented team, he hesitated long enough — before saying he wasn't willing to say that yet — for you to know it was under consideration.

To be sure, this isn't the best Kansas team Bill Self has had. Not by a long shot. But Self brought a veteran team to New York and got rolled in the second half.

It was an ugly first half of basketball, on both sides. Kentucky turned it over 12 times in the first 20 minutes, and six of those belonged to Teague, who played shakily on the big stage for the first time. There's no shame in that. But the Indianapolis native made up for it in the second half. In the first 10 minutes of the final 20, Kentucky had just one turnover.

"We don't truly believe yet that we have to play together," Calipari said. "Talent doesn't win. Teams win. This isn't a team yet."

True, but once it truly becomes a team, the possibilities are limitless.

"This team has a chance to be special if they choose to," said Calipari. "But they've got to come together."

Before the game, the coach said win or lose in the Big Apple, remember it is only Nov. 15, meaning that his team was nowhere near what it could be, what it should be.

He's right. Imagine, it's only Nov. 15.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service