UK uses size, speed to close out ugly win



SYRACUSE, N.Y. — So much for that.

So much for the “smart vs. dumb” angle and the miniature societal clash that came with it.

So much for the Big Red’s big upset bid. Cornell has played well all season, but not against speed, size or strength comparable to UK’s — and yes, that includes Cornell’s near-shocker against Kansas in January.

The game that trespassed into Friday’s wee hours eventually had to be played. Left behind were hours of television speculation, hundreds of inches of print banter, a YouTube video featuring a Cornell player solving a Rubik’s Cube and UK player quotes about spelling bees.

Once all that was pushed aside, The Game That Was looked nothing like The Game That Could Be.

With Kansas out — and Syracuse, too — and an unimaginable pressure on the shoulders of a bunch of freshmen, the upset talk was overbearing. Remember when Hawaii played Georgia in the 2008 Sugar Bowl? That’s what it felt like.

It turned out similarly, too.

The Cats’ defense was just too much faster and too much longer to be overcome by Cornell. That unit held the country’s best in 3-point percentage to 5-of-21 from deep, including 2-of-9 in the first half while the Cats were converting on high-percentage shots in transition. The Cats also stole the ball from Cornell nine times (out of the Big Red’s total 12 turnovers) in that too-much-to-overcome first half.

All year, UK has used speed to its advantage at the beginnings of games because no amount of film study and practice scenarios can prepare anyone to go toe-to-toe with John Wall out of the gate. In the first half, the Cats shot an even 50 percent from the field with several of those shots coming in transition. In the second half, Cornell seemed like it had caught up.

But again, it was all too much to overcome for a bunch of shooters that weren’t hitting.

If UK had stuck to its tried-and-true ways of scoring — of unrelenting defense and power in the paint — the Red wouldn’t have made that late-game push the Cats have given up so many times this year. Instead, UK started chucking up long balls and losing interest in marginal aspects of the game, like taking care of the ball and playing tight defense.

Even still, Cornell couldn’t keep up. DeMarcus Cousins proved too strong, Wall too fast and the Red too overmatched all around. Almost from the start and almost to the finish, Cornell got its bell rung.

I guess it was a spelling bee after all.