Kentucky Hits a Wall of a Different Kind: Tennessee
While the ball was in the air, it was still a ballgame. But by the time the ball swished through the net and sent 21,162 inside Thompson-Boling Arena into a fit of ecstasy, the game was over.
It was 70-65 and 37.1 seconds remained in the game. The Vols would go on to win 74-65, meaning the top two teams in college basketball have three losses among them, two having come in Knoxville, Tenn.
Prior to this game, Pearl said that Tennessee could have a good season if they didn't beat Kentucky, but that the Vols couldn't have a great season without beating Kentucky. Saturday's game would be the second meeting between Coach John Calipari and Bruce Pearl, the first time the two men have faced each other twice in the same year.
But the two foes have coached against each other once each of the last four seasons, when Calipari was at Memphis.
Coming into Saturday's game, Calipari led the series 3-2, and in the midst of those five games we've rapidly learned that neither man can stand the other and that the games between the two teams are almost always close. But many in the national media, in their rush to crown Calipari as the unchallenged leader in the SEC coaching clubhouse, overlooked the fact that Pearl had gone .500 against Calipari at Memphis despite having much less talent. In fact, fired Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie had a better career record against Pearl than Calipari.
Nevertheless all of these facts were snowed under in the rush to crown Calipari's greatness.
In the game less than a month ago, Pearl flummoxed the high-flying Cat offense -- give John Wall the ball and get out of the way -- with a zone defense. The result? With 10 minutes remaining in the game at Rupp Arena the Vols held a 52-50 lead. Then Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe hit a couple of big threes down the stretch to blow the game open.
Now there were 40 more minutes to come, this time in Knoxville.
More so than any of Pearl's five seasons, this has been a season of turmoil for the Volunteers. On New Year's Day Tyler Smith, the Vols best player, was arrested on a traffic stop, two guns were uncovered, and ultimately Smith was kicked off the team. Three additional Volunteer players riding in the vehicle were suspended. Pearl's Vols responded to that setback by rolling off five consecutive wins, including a home victory over number one Kansas.
But since those five games and the return of the three suspended Vol players, Tennessee had stumbled, going just 6-5 over the last 11. Did the Vols have what it would take to bring down the Wildcats?
Time would tell. Come along as we take a telecast journey. Here are 17 thoughts from watching the game.
1. If you've ever thought about living on the East Coast, aside from the general unattractiveness of the women, this CBS regional broadcast should end those desires.
On the one hand, two top 25 teams that hate each other, Kentucky and Tennessee, are playing for over the 200th time. On the other hand, Georgetown is playing Notre Dame.
Guess which game the East Coast got?
This is what East Coast sports programming boils down to, pick two teams from large cities and put them on television even if the game isn't a good one.
I know, I lived through college here.
It was a sports disaster.
2. The UT student section regales the Kentucky basketball team with SAT chants.
The great thing about John Calipari is you're not even sure which player those chants are being directed at. And we probably won't even find out for another five years.
3. Does Bruce Pearl have a new orange jacket?
We got into a big discussion on the radio show about the fact that Pearl's jacket didn't match the Tennessee basketball team's uniform.
But this jacket looks new and the orange looks like it actually matches the team's orange.
Given that Pearl is 0-3 on the season against Vandy and Kentucky in the orange jacket, maybe a new jacket was called for.
4. CBS's Jim Spanarkel reports that Samuel L. Jackson is a huge Tennessee fan.
So congrats to him for sharing a bit of knowledge I didn't have.
By the way, in case you're wondering, the fact that Jim Spanarkel is doing this game is a great sign that CBS hedged their broadcasting bets.
Where did CBS find him?
Well, according to Wikipedia, Spanarkel is "currently a First Vice President and a certified financial planner at Merrill Lynch in New Jersey."
Maybe Word Wide Wes is a client, who knows?
5. After giving up the first four points of the game to Kentucky, Tennessee takes off on an 18-0 run that sends the Vols in front by 14.
During this run, Tennessee attacks Kentucky in transition.
The Wildcats seem stunned that Tennessee is running, and are slow to react after missed shots. Tennessee takes advantage, scoring rapidly rather than running down the shot clock as the Vols did in their previous match-up.
6. Has there ever been a great player that is less interested in running up and down the court than DeMarcus Cousins?
In fact, has there been a more dominant player that moves less in recent memory? Imagine if Cousins was actually a hustler, what he'd be capable of doing on the basketball court.
As is, he loafs his way up and down the court like he's already playing in the NBA and has a limited number of steps he can take in a game. His running is downright Manute Bol-ian.
7. At the half it is 40-29 Vols, and Kentucky has yet to execute a single offensive play.
Honest question for Kentucky fans, what has Cal done to make a single adjustment on the offensive side of the ball in the first half?
Honest question for Tennessee fans, what amount of money would you have wagered on J.P. Prince connecting on two three-point baskets in the first half?
8. Calipari makes his halftime speech.
He calls World Wide Wes on his cell phone: "Wes," Cal says, "I'm going to need you to get me five NBA lottery picks next year. I can't beat Pearl in Knoxville with four."
9. With 14:06 remaining in the second half, Tennessee storms out to a 19-point lead at 54-35.
The game is close to blowout territory, but the Vols will not score a basket for the next five minutes. Instead Cameron Tatum will decide that each Vol offensive possession should end with him hoisting up a heavily contested three forty feet from the basket.
10. And John Wall turns into Michael Jordan for the next five minutes.
Jordan played five or six years in the NBA before he began to get the Jordan treatment from the refs.
It's taken him just over one month for SEC refs to literally trip all over themselves to give him beneficial calls.
In particular there are two plays that account for six points and make this a ballgame. First, Wall charges over Cameron Tatum, gets the block call and the resulting basket.
Then, less than a minute later, Wall flies down the court, is fouled one step inside the three point line, and then is allowed to take three more steps before laying up a shot.
You guessed, it, and one!
It's almost like the SEC officials are competing to see who can finish the season having called more and one plays for John Wall.
11. At this point, with the game headed towards a dogfight finish, there's a frenzy in my house.
It's lunchtime for my two-year old son and my wife has to pick a lunch destination with my in-law's.
The Treaty of Ghent was executed in a more timely fashion.
Am I the only person this happens to? Inevitably, just when games get tight, my son has to put on his coat and refuses to do so. He's wailing, rolling around on the floor kicking his legs, now I know what Coach Cal feels like when he asks DeMarcus Cousins to go to class.
12. Kentucky runs a recognizable play out of a timeout, the alley-oop.
Only the pass bangs off the backboard.
Who ends up with it?
DeMarcus Cousins of course.
Honest question, if Kentucky's offense consisted entirely of passes thrown off the backboard, how many plays would end with Cousins getting a lay-up or shooting free throws?
By the way, Kentucky fans, how many times did the Wildcats feed Cousins in the post today and let him work?
I can't even remember one single time.
13. Kentucky ties the game 65-65 on a Cousins dunk.
Immediately preceding his assist, John Wall registers a 3.9 forty.
After watching Wall streak up and down the court all season, I'm legitimately interested what his forty time would be if he left Knoxville and headed to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine.
Blazing is the answer.
(Not that kind of blazing Brian Williams.)
14. The CBS scoreboard goes out with Tennessee nursing a 67-65 lead.
That's okay, the score is irrelevant.
So is the clock.
How does this happen?
15. Bruce Pearl tries to take a timeout with his team leading 67-65, but J.P. Prince convinces him not to do so.
We've officially entered a bizarro universe when Prince is making strategic suggestions and his head coach is listening. Prince, the same player who only shoots reverse lay-ups, fouls a shooter on a three-point basket every game, is capable of getting T'ed up for hanging on the rim after any dunk, and, even at this moment, might use Wayne Chism's headband as a slingshot and take aim at DeMarcus Cousins, is giving coaching advice to a man who has won 20 games every season he's been a head coach.
I'm trying to think of an analogy in the outside world that is similar to Pearl listening to Prince in this moment, like Cormac McCarthy allowing Paris Hilton to title his next novel or Stephen Hawking permitting Sarah Palin to check the math on his latest time-travel equation.
But the result?
The result is beautiful to the eyes.
Scotty Hopson, heretofore 0-5 from three all game, rises up into the air and finds nothing but net to put the Vols up 70-65 with 37.1 seconds remaining.
16. Kentucky finishes 2-22 from the three-point line.
Stat of the night within that atrocious three-point shooting? Kentucky's Darnell Dodson went 0-5 on three. Okay, that happens.
But he only played six minutes!
Just to make Dodson feel a bit better, Wayne Chism went 0-7.
And Scotty Hopson was 0-5 in the first 39 minutes.
But if you're a fan of the Big Blue mist this shooting performance has to make you incredibly nervous. Because it continues a trend that has become the Wildcats' greatest weakness as tourney time nears: The Wildcats have no consistent outside shooters.
Need the stats?
In their last six games, the Wildcats are 22-106 from three.
That's not one bad shooting game, that's a trend.
And it just might end up being the difference between making a deep run in March and leaving early. Because teams are going to allow Kentucky to keep gunning from outside.
17. Total score, John Calipari vs. Bruce Pearl in season one of their grudge match. After 80 minutes of basketball: Kentucky 138, Tennessee 136.
It's hard to get much closer than that.
Kentucky and Coach Calipari start four definite NBA first-rounders.
Tennessee has none -- although Scotty Hopson may have the potential to become one.
The difference in this equation? Even though he's moved a few miles north and traded up in prestige, Bruce Pearl continues to coach circles around John Calipari.