Late-night ramble on Cats-Cards

My column in Sunday’s paper is more narrow in scope — when you have six people covering a game, you tend to divide things up, and I wrote about the toughness that U of L brought into the game, which is something we haven’t seen from the Cards yet this season. (I know, Samardo Samuels isn’t exactly a shining example of that, but as a whole, U of L out-rebounded a much bigger UK team and, though U of L fans probably don’t want to acknowledge it, the Cards gave as good as they got in the rugby scrum that the game became). Anyway, my more general thoughts on what transpired in Rupp Arena this afternoon.

THE FAMOUS FOREARM: The DeMarcus Cousins shot on Jared Swopshire happened right in front of me. Watching it live, I had no doubt that it was intentional. It came after the whistle and continued after the whistle. I also had no problem with none of the players being ejected. Especially in the first minute of the game. The luckiest guy not to be tossed in that whole exchange was Reginald Delk, and here’s why. Delk was not involved in the play. He came from outside to take a shot at Cousins (yes, defending a teammate), and when you do that, you’re risking ejection. If the refs tossed one player in that situation, they had to toss the other. I thought, in the end, they were right to toss neither. I do think, even though Cousins’ forearm was intentional (look at the photo above — he was up off his knees, on his feet pushing down) that guys get some leeway when they’re rolling around on the ground like that. But Cousins’ assertion that he was “just going after the ball,” from the replay, clearly is not correct.

Regardless, there were plenty of body shots delivered by both sides throughout this game, which was officiated inconsistently, at best. I thought it was pretty clear that U of L came in with the attitude that it would not be pushed around, and for the most part, U of L was not.

U of L OFFENSE: Yes, yes, I know. What offense? Of U of L’s first 37 points, 27 came off put-backs and turnovers. That tells you that the Cardinals had no half-court offense. If Siva isn’t up to speed, and he wasn’t today, U of L has nobody who can create off the dribble against a quality opponent, and that’s a problem. Now I will say this. For whatever reason, U of L didn’t execute its motion at all in the first 15 minutes of the game, settled for jump shots, didn’t look back door, didn’t really show any desire to work the ball and be aggressive on offense against a more athletic opponent. Here’s an example. Several times, UK switched on the ball screen at the top of the key, leaving Patterson on top against a guard and Wall down low guarding Samuardo Samuels. Edgar Sosa twice failed to look into that matchup, and a third time trying to get the ball to Jennings against Wall threw a pass that Jennings couldn’t bring in. That execution is something that will have to improve over the course of the Big East season. For UK’s part, it was the best half-court defense I’ve seen from the Wildcats all season. UK deserves a great deal of credit for U of L’s offensive struggles.

COACHING: I thought Pitino dictated he game from a strategic standpoint, though I can’t honestly say he got much more out of what he had today than Calipari did, given that some players simply didn’t fire, and that the early offensive execution was so bad. I can’t give Calipari a higher grade, though, because UK had a chance to throw a real knockout punch early, but didn’t execute itself offensively. Once it got the lead, UK forgot that Patrick Patterson was on the team. The single most effective offensive weapon UK had in the game was giving Patterson the ball isolated against Swopshire. But it didn’t happen nearly enough. Patterson had made seven straight shots, but in the second half took only two shots in the first 16 minutes, while UK repeatedly went into Cousins who tried to score amid triple-teams (often successfully). Cousins’ presence in the middle means Patterson is going to have mega-opportunities on offense. Cousins needs to think about getting the ball to him in those situations. But one more note on coaching — the mark of a well-coached game is that it leaves a blueprint for how to play an opponent. UK can expect to see plenty of zone defenses moving forward — and plenty of opponents deciding to be physical with the Wildcats to see if they can negate UK’s speed in the backcourt. Pitino and the Cardinals also did the best job of anyone all season of limiting Wall’s touches in transition by denying the long outlet passes that Cousins likes to throw.

JOHN WALL: Pitino’s assessment of Wall’s game was right on. Wall wasn’t having a great game, but never forced the issue, and in the game’s single most important sequence — after U of L took a 42-41 lead — it was Wall who scored the next six points and regained the momentum for UK. At one point in the first half, with UK leading by 13, I thought if Wall simply could shake himself free for a couple of baskets, the game would be over. U of L deserves credit for not letting that happen, and perhaps UK needed to do a few things differently to have that happen in that situation. It was worth, I thought, Calipari calling a couple of set plays to see if he couldn’t get a knockout punch thrown.

THE PHYSICAL PLAY: This was not, by any stretch, a well-played basketball game. It was a perfect exhibition of modern basketball, too much macho physical stuff and not enough basketball execution. Both teams engaged in it. U of L came out jawing from the pregame warm-ups. U of L’s players bumped UK players on the way to the locker room. UK players pushed back. One observer in the UK tunnel told me he heard Calipari yelling at his players, urging them to take nothing off U of L. John Wall said Calipari lectured them not to get “punked.” I don’t have a problem with it, but can do without all the finger-pointing afterward of fan bases on both sides. It is all too predictable. Yes, it was a physical, rough, rivalry game. Those things happen. All the inevitable throwing about of the “thug” label is, in my estimation, weak. Because the same behavior in your own team’s uniform would be seen not as “thuggish” but “tough.” That’s just how it goes. One man’s “thug” is another’s “enforcer.” Let me guess. Cardinal fans think Cousins is a “thug.” Wildcats fans think Ellis Myles was a “thug.” This stuff is fine for fans, but should not find its way into a wider audience.

CONSEQUENCES FOR COUSINS: The problem Cousins faces now, however, that his shot to Swopshire has been seen via replay around the nation (unfortunately, at 1:20 a.m., I’ve yet to see that replay — job to do, etc.), is that his margin for error will grow more narrow. Refs are going to be watching him more closely, and the next time he crosses the line, he probably will be more likely to get the hook because of what happened today. UK just better hope that doesn’t happen to be in an NCAA Tournament game.

BEST FOR BOTH WORLDS: Beleive it or not, I thought as rough as today’s game was, and as little fun as it was to watch, it was absolutely the best thing that could have happened for either team. UK had a team try to push it around, saw a different look defensively than it has seen all season (U of L’s zone pushed out farther than any UK had faced), and was challenged by falling b
ehind in the final 10 minutes at home. The Wildcats — led by their freshmen, interestingly — from that point did what they were supposed to do. They’ll be better for it, and for having been put through this kind of game.

U of L, meanwhile, needed to assert itself physically before the real Big East Conference tests began, and it did, for the most part. The team rebounding was the best U of L has turned in all season. Offensive problems notwithstanding, U of L showed the kind of toughness and perseverance that it is going to have to show to win games in the Big East this season. I had questions coming in over whether Reginald Delk and Jared Swopshire could compete in this game at all. They did — though they didn’t get the better of more talented competition. Instead of letting UK get onto the racetrack, U of L kept the Wildcats between the ropes of a ring, and though they didn’t win, they gave themselves a chance to win. At some point, the Cardinals are going to have to combine making perimter shots with the kind of defensive toughness they showed today.

DARK CLOUDS: A couple of problems emerged for both teams. For UK, Darius Miller was a non-factor. The rotation got much, much shorter when the game got serious, and Calipari noted afterward that he rode the five players he could count on (Patterson, Cousins, Harris, Bledsoe and Wall) too hard. They were gassed at the end (evidence — Patterson’s missed dunk). UK needs more from Miller than it got today. Calipari is right — when Miller is good, it gives UK a different gear offensively. U of L’s problems are pretty obvious — it needs more in the paint from Samardo Samuels, more toughness on the offensive end, more of a presence on the defensive end. But it also needs more from Terrence Jennings, who simply didn’t get himself into the game enough today and wasn’t enough of a factor when he did get in. And, again, the lack of dribble penetration is a killer for the U of L offense. Jerry Smith is competing hard, but he needs to find the range for U of L to accomplish what it wants to accomplish in the Big East.

BOTTOM LINE: UK is very good. The Wildcats are better than Louisville. They are better than anyone in the SEC. They weren’t better today than Kansas. They need more tests like they got today. The goal isn’t necessarily just an SEC championship. They’ve got to find a way to get to where Kansas is while doing it against less-than-stellar competition. The good news for UK is that it has more upside than Kansas. It’s just tough to develop that upside if you’re not being pushed. U of L will be pushed a great deal in the Big East. I have a hard time seeing the Cardinals finish as high as they were picked — fourth. But today I saw sparks of the kind of toughness that will be required to do that.

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26 thoughts on “Late-night ramble on Cats-Cards

  1. Cousins and Bledsoe are both thugs. Cousins CLEARLY should have been ejected for maliciously throwing that elbow.I heard no one else say they saw Delk throw a punch, but if he did he should have been tossed as well. Bledsoe was mouthing off even as he was pulled from the game and chastised by Calapari. Cousins was also talked to later in the game by the officials for rough play. What will it take to curb that 'hood behavior? Do they have to punch or stab someone? But then that is what can be expected when opponents play in 'corrupt' arena.

  2. I realize this isn't the main point of the article but before anyone refers to Ellis Myles as a 'thug' they should see him interact with his 8 year old son.

  3. why is just being ignored that Swopshire hit Cousins with a knee to the side of the face? Sure it was probably accidental, but in the heat of the moment I doubt any of us could honestly say we wouldn't react to it with a physical shot ourself. That's what cousins did, UL just couldn't handle it.

  4. What did Delk say to Bledsoe to set him off? More investigation is needed in this because Bledsoe has had no situations like this during the season. I guess it was fine for the UL players to bump UK players during warmups as long as no elbows were thrown.

  5. I'm a UofL fan, but let's just admit it right from the start-both teams played badly. Instead of sticking to a gameplan, they both got wrapped up in the hype & tried to bully each other. Trashtalk, forearms-none of it makes any difference, if the teams would have played strict basketball then we wouldn't have all this talk of "thugs" & ejections. Immaturity should be the headlines in this game. As much pain as it gives me, I have to say Patterson was the only player on the floor acting like he wanted to play ball & keep his mouth shut doing it. The Cats WILL NOT win a championship with this lack of experience on this team & the Cards will be lucky to get past a 1st round NCAA tourney because they're lack of focus. We should ALL be angry that after so much anticipation we didn't get to see any good basketball Saturday.

  6. Calling of thugs is weak and one's man's thug is another's enforcer..true/good job Eric! This game only makes both teams better though it was an ugly game. Fact is UL behavior in pregame set the tone of the start. Swop's knee to "Cuz's" head was "unintentional" but any of us that has competed knows how this kind of tussle can go down hill and pre empted by the pregame antics. Man up! Stop the whiny sniveling and move on with both teams needed a game like this. Good luck to UL from here on! Go Cats….15-0! And the Big Blue Nation is having a great time!

  7. You know what set UK off? Calipari. That garbage Crawford quotes(and other things Cal was heard saying during the game) constitutes clear instigation. He wanted his guys to lose it. His teams have a long history of this kind of play. Pitino's teams? Not so much.

  8. UL came to Rupp with their mouths running and UK didn't back down to UL's shady tactics. Clearly the two fan bases view the outcome differently. However, in my opinion UK had to play not only UL, but the refs and the announcers too. The anti-UK agenda was out of control yesterday. Fortunately, while UL was talking $#*! they lost the game. Talking about the opponents mamas won't win you any games. Thankfully, Pitino demonstrated a little class by acknowledging the way that Wall played the game.

  9. I love you Johnny Blue.And I love the way you recognize the huge worldwide anti-uk agenda. It makes me sick and reminds me of the anti-memphis agenda from the past few years.

  10. I was visiting a whole bunch of message boards today and they all say the same thing. uconn, duke, unc, kansas, arkansas, ucla, villanova, texas. They all have the anti-uk agenda too! It's crazy. Everybody that knows anything about basketball thinks we're bad for the game. How stupid. IT's just fear right? I remember them saying it about memphis too but it's really the big blue that everybody is jealous of.All i know is that uk fans are right and EVERYBODY ELSE IS WRONG!Right?

  11. For the record, U of L's coaches were doing the same thing and, if anything, U of L bebefitted from the kind of game it was. If you ask me, both coaches may have had the players a little TOO ready for physical confrontation, but that's a fine line.

  12. Calipari's teams have a history of this. Pitino's don't. Rick knew what he had to do in this game thanks to years of experience against Cal in cusa. And Cal's team took it too far as history tells us they usually do.UK fans are going to have to defend their coach from this stuff as long as he is here. They shouldn't forget that.

  13. You're an idiot Crawford, if you're comparing Myles to Thuggins. Cousins has problems CONSTANTLY acting like a thug. In high school he was ejected constantly and coaches in the state didn't even vote him POY because of his antics. Ever since he's been at UK he complains about every call that doesn't go his way, talks crap in players faces after every play, and cries like a baby when he goes to the bench.Most importantly of all Myles never threw a forearm to the face of a downed player. Delk did the right thing by protecting his teammate who was hit in the face on the ground. Cousins is a THUG PERIOD. And you're a freaking idiot if you think otherwise. How does someone who throws a forearm worthy of the UFC pay per view last night be allowed to stay in the game??? Not only that, but gets FT's out of it because of a much weaker retaliatory push??Give me a break Crawford. How about you stop playing mediator wimp apologist for UK so it seems like it was a "Fair" game, which every member of the wimp media in this city wants to act like despite all the transgressions UK gets away with, that others in the national media call them out for. Everyone else said Cousins should have been ejected, and not only that, SUSPENDED, except of course UK fans and wimps like yourself.

  14. Eric – I would like you to comment on the pre-game activities that apparently set this in motion. UofL players chanting "We're bad motherf******", then not coming out for introductions, running into UK players intentionally in warmups, refusing to shake hands before the game, etc.Seems like Pitino had a pretty low class game plan to try to start trouble and potentially get players ejected. Face it, out of the 10 starters, no matter who gets ejected from both sides, it is a net gain for Louisville.Agree on the "thug" talk. Countless examples can be cited by either side. Louisville has had them, and HAS them. So does Kentucky. Pot, kettle, black.

  15. Eric, you obviously have not seen the replays every other person in America has seen. Come on. It's not even close. Swopshire has the ball lying on the ground when Cousins dives at him and tries to drive his head into the court with his elbow. If that doesn't warrant an ejection, then what does? I don't care what happened before the game. Mere talking is not adequate provocation for Cousins' actions. Cousins is the worst of the worst. He will go down as having one of the worst attitudes in the history of college basketball. Cal's reaction after the game was even worse. Asked about the technicals, he said, "Were they on me? Then I don't care." Are you serious?

  16. When is someone going to ask Calipari about the appropriateness of screaming at opposing players? He clearly said the words "kick your ass" to Reginald Delk. Anybody ask him about that?This guy has a whole lot to answer for and he's getting a free pass.

  17. Both teams have their fair share of "thugs," albeit, but this game was far from pleasing to watch. Probably the ugliest first half of basketball I have ever witnessed. We all expected that this game was going to be physical–as most rivalries are–but we can be nothing but disappointed that we did not get to watch a great game of basketball and rather a wrestling match. This game looked much more like an NBA match.On the contrary, I am stoked that UK is 15-0, and keep the tide rolling cats!!

  18. We all need to let this stuff go away…but I'm thinking that the refs may have been a little too strong on that first foul on Bledsoe, just to "try and gain control of the game"…this may have fueled the flames more and set those kids up for the big fiasco…Loving My Cats!!!

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