UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Win is big, but Cats still playing too small

Darius Miller was congratulated by Terrence Jones after Miller scored and got fouled. Miller scored 14 points for the Cats.
Darius Miller was congratulated by Terrence Jones after Miller scored and got fouled. Miller scored 14 points for the Cats.

Here's what John Calipari said Saturday.

"We win."

Here's what John Calipari said last week, and repeated again Saturday.

"We have more upside than any team in the country."

But what's worrisome is something John Calipari said a few weeks back.

"If your team doesn't have a post presence, you're a fraud."

OK, back to the first comment. Kentucky got the win on Saturday. It beat Georgia 66-60. It played a sensational first half. It played a so-so second half. Up 13 with four minutes to go, it held on for a six-point win.

An important win, mind you. The Cats could not afford to be swept by the Georgia Bulldogs, a team in their own division, a good team in their own division.

Plus, Calipari's Cats got a break. Florida lost to Mississippi State in Starkville. The division-leading Gators are now 5-2. Kentucky is 4-2. The two meet Saturday in Gainesville.

Now, that second Calipari comment, the one about upside. It's from the classic Calipari school of if he says something enough times about his team they will begin to believe it.

And for a half Saturday, the Cats played as if driven to prove their coach right. Darius Miller was dynamite. He was aggressive, taking it to the rim. No fadeaway 1-footers. Brandon Knight hit big shots. Doron Lamb drained jumpers. Kentucky shot 51.7 percent the first half. It played sticky defense. It led by 15 points over a team it had lost to by seven points earlier this month.

To be fair, Georgia appeared to be suffering a hangover from its heart-breaking double-overtime loss to Florida on Tuesday night in Athens.

"I don't think we put it all behind us," said Mark Fox, the Georgia coach. "That's taking nothing away from Kentucky, but we didn't start the game very well."

Georgia's Big Two of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie came up small. Thompkins scored 25 points in the win over UK in Athens. He scored nine points Saturday. He clanged eight of his 10 shots. Leslie missed all seven of his tries from the field. The two said afterward they weren't injured or sick. They were just off.

"We couldn't get them going," Fox said.

Given that, you'd think Kentucky would have rolled. Foot to the throat. Killer instinct. Didn't happen. Just as last Saturday at South Carolina, the Cats didn't exactly stick the landing.

Georgia chipped away. Dustin Ware got hot. Kentucky slowed down. A few nails were bitten before Kentucky survived.

Still, you couldn't help thinking about that third Calipari comment.

After Terrence Jones scored inside with 17:32 left to put Kentucky up 47-32, the Cats made four field goals the rest of the game.

Lamb made three of those — a runner with 12:16 left, a clutch shot from the right baseline with 6:40 left, then a basket in the lane with 5:31 remaining. Knight scored the fourth, off a drive with 4:02 remaining.

During that long stretch, Kentucky did not score a single post-up basket, did not make a single inside bucket. For the game, Georgia scored 30 points in the paint. Kentucky scored 22. Josh Harrellson, the UK center, took just two shots in the game, making one. Jones finished 3-for-6 from the floor, but he's still not a back-to-the-basket post-up player. He sees himself with a wider game.

So yes, with fear of throwing cold water on a nice win, the question of whether a young Kentucky can finish may have more to do with this: Can a team really possess tremendous upside if it doesn't have a post presence?

"We're not a mature team if we only play 35 minutes," Harrellson said. Saturday, 35 minutes got it done against a good team. But to truly finish games, and win titles, it helps to be a finished product.

For Kentucky to be a finished product, it's still going to have to show something more in the post.

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