National Columnist

Even on an off day, Kentucky shows why it's playing for the title


NEW ORLEANS -- This is how scary Kentucky is:

Kentucky sucked on Saturday. Yes, Kentucky did. The Wildcats made 57.1 percent of their shots, so they shot well -- but they played poorly. Kentucky was outrebounded by a smaller, less-athletic Louisville team by seven. Kentucky had only nine assists and 14 turnovers. Kentucky made two 3-pointers all game, and was a disturbing 7 of 15 from the foul line in the second half.

And still Kentucky beat the 30-win champion of the Big East by a comfortable margin of 69-61. Kentucky allowed Louisville to score the first basket of the game -- and never trailed again.

That's how scary Kentucky is: Even when it's bad, it's good.

That's why the Wildcats will play in the national title game Monday, and that's why the Wildcats will almost definitely win it. Not "probably" win it, either -- Kentucky will almost definitely win the eighth title in program history and the first in John Calipari's three-year rampage in Lexington.

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Because Kentucky played badly against Louisville, and was never really threatened.

What happens Monday if Kentucky plays well? It'll be Baylor all over again, those poor saps from the Big 12 who caught Kentucky on a day that nobody in college basketball was going to challenge the Wildcats. The final score of that South Regional title game was 82-70, but the game was only nominally that close. It was a 20-point blowout at halftime, got up to 23 points early in the second half and stayed out of hand until it ended.

That's how good Kentucky is, that Baylor game.

But this is how scary Kentucky is -- this Louisville game.

Kentucky was vulnerable, or as vulnerable as Kentucky can be. Louisville embarrassed the Wildcats on the boards with sheer hustle, turning missed shots in the second half into a 50-50 proposition. Literally, Louisville missed 25 shots in the second half but grabbed 12 offensive rebounds, finishing the game with 19 offensive boards.

Because Kentucky could neither take care of the ball nor block out on the defensive glass, Louisville took 20 more shots than the Wildcats, 69 to 49. Twenty more shots, and Louisville lost by eight.


This wasn't just a fluke thing, either, where Kentucky's team stats looked bad but in reality its individual players were pretty good. No. They weren't.

The individual players sort of sucked.

Preseason SEC Player of the Year Terrence Jones was invisible most of the game, making his first noticeable appearance midway through the second half by missing two free throws as Louisville was rallying. Jones was so ineffective, so distressingly invisible, that Calipari met him on the court during a timeout with 11:23 left -- when Jones had contributed two points and two rebounds in 25 minutes of court time -- and scolded him like a second-grader: "You are out," Calipari hissed at Jones. "Go sit down now."

It happens with Jones a lot, this NBA talent with that NBA body making a habit of desultory play, but it wasn't just him on Saturday. Point guard Marquis Teague had no points and one assist in 16 minutes of the second half. Small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed most of the first half because of foul trouble, didn't score until making a free throw with 10 minutes left, and proceeded to miss his next three shots from the foul line. He finished with as many turnovers (four) as rebounds. Shooting guard Doron Lamb? He didn't score in the final 19 minutes. That's four of the Wildcats' six key guys, sucking.

And Kentucky trailed only once, 2-0. And Kentucky played much of the game with a margin of 10 points. Won by eight.

Because Kentucky is so good that it turns on the jets when it has to. Creep up on the Wildcats, as Louisville did late in the second half -- turning a 45-32 deficit into a tie at 49 -- and Kentucky gets serious. The same thing happened in the Round of 32 against Iowa State, when the Wildcats loafed into a 42-all tie with 16 minutes left before stepping on the gas with a 20-2 run that sparked an 87-71 victory.

That was March 17. Back to Saturday, and Louisville. Remember the way Calipari chewed into Terrence Jones at the 11:23 mark? He put Jones back into the game with 9:24 left, and over the next 7 1/2 minutes Jones had four points and five rebounds -- and used one of Russ Smith's driving layup attempts to make like a volleyball player and spike it out of bounds.

National player of the year Anthony Davis was sensational all game -- though not given nearly enough touches, considering he took only eight shots (and made seven) -- finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. Kentucky's lone senior, Darius Miller, scored nine of his 13 points in the second half, when most of the rest of the team was lousy.

Add that up. Anthony Davis plus Darius Miller plus eight minutes of Terrence Jones. That's what Kentucky got in the second half against Louisville. It was like a bleak comedy -- call it, say, Two And a Half Men -- yet it was enough for Kentucky to outscore a hustling, scrapping, dangerous Louisville team by one point in the final 20 minutes, turning a seven-point halftime edge into an eight-point win.

Two And A Half Men? That doesn't make Kentucky funny at all, now that I think about it.

That makes Kentucky scary.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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