IRA COMBS: Wildcats Dodge Another Bullet At Texas A&M But Still Undefeated
By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
Thank God those eight letters across the jersey UK wears still has an impact to its opponents, even if it doesn’t with the ones who wear it, or else UK would be saddled with two losses today.
Last Tuesday late in the Ole Miss game, my brother Oscar (who has much more name recognition than I’ll ever have with Big Blue Nation) while sitting beside me on media row said, "Anyone above 30 years of age that said this team is capable of or should go undefeated should be examined for sports brain surgery." I didn’t know how to take that since obviously I’m way above that age cutoff, then again so is he, and he may not be on record predicting a 40-0 season but he’s been high on the soap box with his opinion of this team to make such a statement.
Anyway, if these Kentucky Wildcats are like a normal feline, they only have seven lives left after last week's single- and double-overtime wins against Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Now, in order to keep the undefeated season in tact, several things must change and quickly if this team is serious about doing something special that no other UK team has done. What appears to be the difference in the team the last two games from the team that played in late November and all thru December?
Coach Cal said in the post-game interview at Texas A & M that he "felt they still had a will to win at the end of last week's two games."
Maybe so, but only at the end you can’t tell me this team has played the last two games with the same passion, physical effort, and intensity defensively from the tipoff to the end. That was evident when they continuously got beat off the dribble against Texas A&M and gave up uncontested open looks earlier in the week against Ole Miss plus were nowhere close to where they were in dominating the boards like the first 13 games. While Coach Cal may have fudged a little with his remarks in defense of his players on their will to win, he did confess that “we simply aren’t very good right now."
Again when and where did UK lose that edge?
Is it due to the fact no more marquee opponents for national TV are left on the schedule? Could the Louisville game as physical as it was piggybacked with 10 days of Camp Cal have taken a little out of the team's physical abilities and emotions which now need some recuperation time over in the Wildcat Coal Lodge? Could the loss of Alex Poythress experience maybe have hurt this team's abilities to fight through tough road game atmospheres or dare I even say this team's ceiling offensively may not be as high as its ceiling defensively?
It does appear this team's strength and depth inside at the power forward, post and baseline positions what everyone thought going into the season was their strength is not as potent especially offensively as first thought. There is no denying that Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, and on occasion Aaron Harrison’s perimeter shooting, have bailed this team out of a couple losses already.
Whatever the problem is that needs to be fixed, it better happen this week because the SEC is not as weak and putrid as in past years. Arkansas is now a serious Top 25 contender. LSU is just a few votes away from the Top 25. South Carolina has received votes for consideration to the Top 25. And Alabama, UK’s opponent this coming Saturday, may be a tougher game in Tuscaloosa than any of the above mentioned teams. The Crimson Tide announced last week that the UK-Bama game on Jan. 17th is already a sellout.
Is this the beginning of a rare disappointing SEC regular season or are we simply fighting through another January slump Calipari style, unlike the old Joe B. Hall January slumps of the 70s and 80s?
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA basketball and football. You can also follow me on Twitter @combsbrothers5.