Posted on January 18th, 2012 by Brandon Priddy
Early on in “Jurrasic Park” there is a scene where Sam Neil is talking to one of the island’s lizard wranglers about the velociraptor cage. The wrangler informs him that the beasts never attack the same area of the electrified fence twice. There is a brief pause as Neil contemplates the frightening implications of this revelation, the carnage that could result from the addition of intelligence to such a physically gifted killer. Taking this all in his face betrays the combined horror and awe of the moment before he utters in little more than a whisper “they’re learning.”
Tonight he could have been talking about the young, gifted and most decidedly deadly Kentucky Wildcats.
For the better part of two months, we’ve seen a Kentucky team survive on talent, skill, desire and little else. This is a natural consequence of fielding a team made up of freshmen and sophomores. There have certainly been flashes, but this was a team that had run up an 18-1 record and ascended to the #2 ranking in the country without really understanding how to play together.
On Tuesday night the pieces fell in place for the longest period we’ve seen thus far, basically the entire game save a five minute span of the first half. It was amazing. It was awe-inspiring. It was frightening.
There was Marquis Teague, a season-long lightening rod for criticism over his inconsistant play, running the show like a veteran. He shredded the press with ease, found open teammates with regularity and in one sequence displayed his rare brand of athelticism by taking the ball 30 feet from the rim with 4 seconds left on the shot clock before dribbling around and through the entire Arkansas team en route to a lay-in as the clock ran out.
There was Anthony Davis, a young man for whom the phrase “physical freak” seems to have been created, sending back everything within 10 feet of the rim as Jay Bilas raved about him on Twitter, calling him “the best defender in the country.” But the most impressive part of Davis’ game wasn’t his defense, but the emergence of an offensive game that he is just beginning to figure out. Watching him play, it’s easy to forget that the young man has only recently aquired the physical gifts that make him so imposing. When he started his junior year of high school he was a 6′-3″ middling guard. Seven months and the most amazing growth spurt
this side of the Rabbit Hole later he was one of nations most coveted recruits: a 6′-10″ big man with a 7′-6″ wingspan. This is only his second full year playing with his frame and he’s just beginning to learn the types of post moves guys around him have been polishing for years. The instincts that serve Davis so well on the defensive end are now being augmented by an understanding of the game that will make him an unstoppable weapon on the offensive end. The attention tonight was on the 7 blocks (the first two of which set the UK single season blocks record – in mid-January) but the revelation was the 27 points. We saw his game at it’s most polished and were given the best glimpse thus far of the sky-high ceiling of Anthony Davis.
Finally there was the shredding of the full court press that has been the Kentucky bugaboo for much of the season – particularly in recent weeks as the Cats struggled against the press of Louisville and AUBURN. Tonight UK did everything they could to insure that this “40 minutes of hell” could be the last this season that they’ll face a press. Dunk after dunk punctuated countless 90 foot rushes as Kentucky scored at a torrid pace they have seldom matched this season. Guys spread the floor, pushed the ball and passed with an ease belying the brief time this team has spent together. It was as beautiful a brand of basketball as we’ve been treated to this season and just what the doctor ordered on the heels of streetfights against Auburn and Tennessee.
All in all it was a mammoth step on the road to #8. People forget that the youth of Calipari’s teams mean that the learning curve is steep. It takes time for games to mesh, for roles to emerge, for guys to KNOW each other. Jimmy Dykes pointed out that he felt this team was talking much more on defense than he’d seen in the past, something that Cal had talked about in recent weeks as a necessary step in the growth of the team. Tonight they took that step and many others, both as a team and as individuals. It is still a long road to March (April) and plenty of peaks and valleys await, but the glimpse of this team’s potential made for a thrilling two hours. They are indeed learning and for SEC teams the carnage could be frightening.
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