John Clay

Next 2 games will test resiliency

John Clay
John Clay

Apparently, some better-than-they-deserve members of the Big Blue Nation have never had a bad day.

They've never knocked over a glass of water, or driven over a nail, or fouled up a job report, or slammed a door on their fingers.

Those who actually play basketball for the Big Blue Nation have had bad days.

"They're not machines," Coach John Calipari said.

No, they're not. Despite their formerly undefeated status and soon-to-be-former No. 1 ranking, they're not the Robo-Cats. They lost a game Tuesday night in Columbia, S.C. They lost a game because they did not play particularly well, and South Carolina had some players, even ones not named Devan Downey, who played well.

At least one Wildcat who did not play well, Patrick Patterson, rightfully took issue with the spitballers who used his Facebook page to question, of all things, his effort.

"Do you know how many times North Carolina lost last year?" Calipari asked before Friday's practice. "Four times. They lost four times."

This Kentucky team is not as good as last year's North Carolina team. (Those who wish to argue the point, save it until after the national title game.) But if Tuesday's loss told us that Kentucky is not invincible, the next two games will tell us if the Cats are resilient.

Vanderbilt is good. The Commodores bring a 10-game winning streak to Rupp Arena on Saturday. No kid is a machine, but Kevin Stallings' team plays with a machine-like efficiency. It might not be stocked with future NBA stars, but it has no weak link.

Especially on offense. Through five Southeastern Conference games, the Commodores lead the league in field-goal percentage (51.6 percent) and three-point field-goal percentage (42.5), and are fourth in free-throw percentage (69.1).

They're also more physical than some of Stallings' previous teams. On Wednesday night, Vanderbilt went into Thompson-Boling Arena, where it had not won since 2005, and pulled out an 85-76 win over Tennessee.

Then as soon as the SEC East leaders leave Rupp, the SEC West leaders arrive on Tuesday. Mississippi is atop that division thanks to its 84-74 win over Auburn on Thursday night, just as John Pelphrey's Arkansas team was rallying to knock off former division-leader Mississippi State 67-62.

Led by Chris Warren, Terrico White and Eniel Polynice, the Rebels boast the best guard trio in the league. Thursday night at Auburn, those three accounted for 53 of the winners' 84 points. As a team, Andy Kennedy's club shot 56.7 percent.

With all the hype and enthusiasm that had surrounded Kentucky's 19-game win streak — not to mention all that momentum from Calipari's first day on the job — maybe it should have been expected some UK fans would be devastated by Tuesday's fall from the mountaintop.

"They told us before that once we lose, everybody's going to start talking," Eric Bledsoe said before Friday's practice. "Our fans are just going to start saying stuff."

A politically correct Calipari claimed Friday that the nut-job quotient is less than 1 percent. The coach even said that anyone who has a Facebook page has to expect that a few wackos are going to post derogatory comments there. After the ridiculous flak that Cal got for sending President Obama a Kentucky jersey, the coach knows of what he speaks.

Still, even we veteran observers of the Big Blue Nation were taken aback by the ferocity of the criticism after Tuesday's loss. Apparently, more than a few of the "knowledgeable" fans of the Bluegrass had gulped the "we're-going-undefeated" Kool-Aid.

"They're not machines," Calipari repeated.

Let's hope not. Patterson and Bledsoe didn't seem like machines on Friday. They seemed a little hurt by the darts and determined for a comeback.

After all, a certain head coach wrote a best-selling book about just this situation.

Title: Bounce Back.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments