As performances go, Kentucky today was really something special. Calipari attributed the Cats performance to the fact that his team was so excited to go home for Christmas that it showed on the court. Wow, if that is what the Christmas season brings, Cal may either want to move the players families into Wildcat Coal Lodge the rest of the season, or simply stop the clock and leave the tree and decorations up for the next four months. That excitement produced an 83-44 clinic that was an annihilation of one of college basketball’s other blue bloods, storied UCLA. For Brantley Gilbert fans, the CATS today didn’t lay down a Small Town Throwdown on the Bruins, but a Big Town Beatdown in the Windy City.
The Cats really seem to show up in big time, big promotion games, and take it to another level when the lights are the brightest. Today was just an example of what this team can be when they put it all together. Defensively, this team is simply, phenomenal. Just like the whip job they put on Kansas a few weeks ago in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, the defensive numbers today were again historic. 24-0 to begin the game, 41-7 at the half, and a field goal percentage of 8.1 % in the first half against an admittedly not great UCLA team, but a good team that was capable of putting some points on the board. As what has now become the norm, it was difficult for UCLA to get a good shot, and when they did, it was contested, or ended up being one of 13 blocks. The Cats defense is going be a constant from game to game, as UCLA Coach Steve Alford put it, ““I think this is a team (Kentucky) that if they were to shoot only 20% and only score 50 points, they will still hold you to 35 points and beat you. They are just that good.”
When the Cats are clicking offensively, this is the result. Shooting 50% from the field and 46.2% from 3Land means any opponent is in trouble. UCLA tried to pack in a zone to start the game, but after Aaron Harrison hit a three just 15 seconds into the game and a second three minutes later it was 16-0 at the first timeout. Devin Booker then went on an 8-0 run by himself with two threes and a dunk in less than a minute, nearly half of his team high 19, and the score was 24-0, at the 12:40 mark. The result was decided. Alford summed it up, “In my 24 years of coaching, this is the best team I’ve coached against. This is a really, really, really good team. If they continue to play at that level defensively, they have a chance to run this thing out.”
The challenge will be how Cal is able to keep this team “excited” for the balance of the season after next week’s showdown with Louisville. The average margin of victory is now 29.1 points a game. Devin Booker was asked the teams mentality when it dominates a team and get a lead on them like today, to which he stated the “We have to keep playing against ourselves. Coach always stresses to us we’re not playing against the other team; we’re playing against ourselves.” If Cal can continue to keep this group “excited” by “playing against themselves”, Cats fans will be the ones excited in April.