The season may not have been all rollovers to this point. Kansas in Madison Square Garden was pretty big. But the combination of these two games has been the landmark destination since the season began.
“They’re great games, great atmospheres,” Darius Miller said. “I don’t see how you couldn’t have fun with it.”
UK has plenty of confidence to build on moving forward. It has beaten every team by double digits (and many by much more than that), and while it hasn’t been the toughest schedule to date, not every top team can say the same. UK had 20 assists and four turnovers, its fewest since 1993. Marquis Teague has had back-to-back solid games, including a 14-point, eight-assists, zero-turnover performance against Portland.
“I thought he played a terrific floor game,” head coach John Calipari said.
That included giving up the ball on an open breakaway to let Terrence Jones lay it in.
“Best play he’s made all year,” Calipari said.
Portland also showed where UK needs to improve. Against a team that had out-rebounded its opponents by less than one board per game, UK was out-rebounded 21-16 in the first half. On the important side of the court, it allowed Portland to grab eight offensive rebounds while getting only 13 defensive rebounds.
“If we don’t physically battle before the ball hits the rim,” Calipari said, “I don’t think we can win either of the next two games.”
Miller said for the young players, improvement will come.
“It’s their first time playing D-I basketball, where everybody’s faster, stronger, quicker,” Miller said. “They’ll be fine.”
But now No. 2 UK will likely ascend to No. 1 in the rankings (and if they don’t something is wrong with the voters and this whole story is now worthless).
Count me as one who would have liked to see North Carolina remain undefeated until the Saturday showdown. It was shaping up to be this month’s Game of the Century, the game everyone’s been looking forward to since stars from both teams decided to return for a sophomore season. A little luster has been lost because it’s not the top two unbeaten teams.
I may be in the minority on that one. If you like seeing that No. 1 beside UK, that’s fine. I would say, though, that UK requires a win against North Carolina to be No. 1 after this week, regardless of whether or not the Tar Heels had lost.
As for the game, the dynamics of the game haven’t changed. I don’t think being No. 1 will change UK’s approach, since a No. 1 ranking would have been at stake regardless. And I don’t buy that North Carolina suddenly has more motivation because of the loss. It was shaping up to be a colossal matchup anyway.
That game is still days away, but the technicalities are done.
“Now this game is over, we really got to practice hard to get ready for these two teams,” Anthony Davis said.
Let the week as No. 1 begin.