Talk pushes UK to its best game of the year



NASHVILLE, Tenn. — DeMarcus Cousins called it “good, clean, competitive basketball.” Daniel Orton called it “competitive spirit.” Whatever “it” was, it made Cats-Vols III feel at times like it would boil over into World War III.

And “it” made UK play its best game of the year.

Of all the unexpected turns in Saturday’s de facto SEC championship game — for starters, UK’s 29-point margin of victory — the roughness and intensity on the court wasn’t one of them. These teams respect each other, but they also respect the rivalry and the intensity it demands.

In all, the teams combined for 42 personal fouls, four technicals and one flagrant foul on which UT’s Melvin Goins was ejected. On the play, Goins tried to run through a DeMarcus Cousins screen. In the process, he appeared to punch Cousins in the groin.

The first 36-and-a-half minutes of the game were just good, clean, competitive basketball, Cousins said.

“That just changed the whole game, though,” Cousins said of the flagrant foul with 3:33 left in the game. On the play, Cousins was also tagged with a technical foul for his verbal retaliation on Goins.

There were plenty of signs the talk would overflow at some point. Things even got heated within UK’s bench. Early in the first half,  Daniel Orton exchanged some words with assistant coach Orlando Antigua and was so miffed, he left the bench.

Orton, almost always stoic on the court, almost immediately returned to the bench, apologizing to Antigua and to head coach John Calipari. Orton was later given a technical, along with Tennessee’s Wayne Chism, for mouthing off.

“Sometimes people do get caught up in the moment and they regret it right after,” Orton said. “It is hard to control your emotions. But like my trainer said, you have to  be the puppetmaster and not the puppet. You can’t let them control you.”

Normally, UK doesn’t spend an extravagant amount of its energy trash talking. Certainly tempers have flared throughout the year, but not because of the incessant jabbering between the two sides.  The Cats make an exception when they play Tennessee. They have to, just to keep up and prove they’re willing to match the Vols pound for pound, word for word.

In the three games this season between UK and UT,  eight technical fouls were assessed; double technical calls were responsible for each.

While the extracurricular action between the two teams created quite a bit of tension Saturday, it also propelled UK to play as well as it has all year. The defense was tight, which forced Tennessee into 30.9 percent shooting from the field and 15 turnovers.

The shooting was a vast improvement over Friday’s win against Alabama. Friday, the Cats shot 1-of-13 from deep. Twenty-four hours later, they shot 8-of-22 employing the same shooters in the same gymnasium against generally similar defensive schemes.

Outside shooting opened up the paint for Cousins, who scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. He would’ve scored more had he not shot 7-of-17 from the free-throw line. Cousins, whose temper has drawn attention throughout the season, seemed to feed off the talk. When asked about it, Cousins started to answer then stopped, bowed his head and smiled.

“Yeah, I guess you could say it gets me going,” he said.

Now the Cats have to turn around and play Mississippi State, whose jabbering fans forced Cousins into changing his phone number. The talk from off the court seemed to get him going, as did the talk on the court Saturday.

Maybe Sunday, Mississippi State shouldn’t say a word. Sounds like that’s the “it” that makes UK run.