When last I blogged, U of L was unbeaten in the Big East Conference and UK had just one loss but was still poised atop the SEC. The U of L women were rolling despite a blowout loss to UConn. Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez were still clean. And everybody assumed that new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin knew the basic rules of college recruiting.
Man. You take one week off and everything falls apart. A quick catch-up from my end:
— U of L men’s basketball: The loss to UConn looked from my couch to be a straight-up case of intimidation, which is strange because U of L has played so well against some great UConn big men in recent years, including Emeka Okafor. I chalk it up to the freshman factor. Samuardo Samuels and Terrence Jennigns just got caught against an opposing big man who was not only bigger, but much more experienced. The Cards were going to have to have a really good perimeter night to beat the Huskies anyway, and they didn’t.
But the most concerning aspect of the night now is a big developing story with the Cardinals — the offensive play of Earl Clark. He rarely squares up on threes. And he now looks to be the most-scouted player in the Big East. Every time he puts the ball on the floor he is attacked. Every time he gets it in the middle of a zone he is collapsed upon. I think Earl has a great mid-range game, and if he utilized it, he might have an easier time driving to the hoop. As it is, if he gets the ball outside the three-point line now, opponents know he’s either going to take a three, which they’re happy with, or take a long-developing drive to the rim.
At St. John’s yesterday, he made the key play on a pivotal U of L basket, when he drove into the lane and found Jerry Smith for an open three in the corner. Rick Pitino says he wishes Clark would listen to no one but him for the next three weeks. That’s a good idea. But for anyone listening to me, I say the keys to Clark breaking out of his offensive slump are passing and offensive rebounding. The better he passes the ball, the less opposing defenses can attack him when he gets it. And Clark should be good for three put-backs per game, at least.
As for the St. John’s game, it wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was a win of maturity. Not much was going for the Cards in Madison Square Garden, but they dug in on defense, got the rebounds that mattered most and made free throws at the end. It was the kind of win that the best, most mature Big East teams have gotten over the years.
UK men’s basketball: The Wildcats have played themselves onto the bubble, and with Florida coming in to Rupp Arena tomorrow night, had best be careful not to play themselves off of it and out of contention altogether. The big concern in UK’s recent winning streak is not complicated — a lack of physical play in the lane. It’s hard to believe Patrick Patterson is at 100 percent, and he’s not getting much help from anyone inside. I wonder if a fatigue factor might be hitting this team. Some time off for the Wildcats was probably a good thing. Tuesday night’s game at Rupp will be a major barometer of what kind of March this team is going to have.
U of L women’s basketball: What the . . . ? To be honest, I thought the U of L women had been overachieving before the UConn game, and they had weathered the storm by winning their first game back from the trouncing that the Huskies are giving everybody. This homecourt loss is inexplicable.
Pharmaceuticals: A-Roid? The Bonds revelations? Phelps and weed? Within five years, and maybe a lot sooner, these kinds of drug allegations in sports will be no big deal. The dam has broken, performance enhancers are in the game, and the more people live with it, the smaller a deal it will be come. As for Phelps, it’s amazing to me how many young athletes smoke pot. For the record, I never have, and never have been interested. But because there apparently is less of a hangover and it doesn’t have the weight-gain effects of alcohol, it has become a social option of choice for many. I’m not condoning it. But as someone who grew up in a state that benefitted greatly from the production and sale of alcohol and tobacco, I’m not going to get too up in arms about it.
Kiffin: I haven’t checked email for a week, but in my Inbox are several suggestions of OTHER rules Florida supposedly broke on the recruiting trail. I can only assume these were leaked by Kiffin’s staff. Among the allegations: Florida coach Urban Meyer actually met with a large number of recruits in their homes! The Florida staff also was involved, allegedly, in inviting large numbers of these recruits to their campus! And they apparently were utilizing a new weapon in recruiting, a weapon they call a “verbal commitment.” I stand by my earlier assessment. Any coach who didn’t give Michael Bush the ball is questionable.
It’s good to be back. More to come on the blog today, and my take on U of L football in tomorrow’s paper . . .