2016-01-27 / Sports

Is UK now ‘getting it?’

Sports in Kentucky
Bob Watkins

Eureka moments are part of most every basketball season. It’s why we pay attention to witness when a jumble shows signs of “we get it” and starts becoming a team.

For fans, makes-my-day magical. A feel-good worth the time and ticket. A payback for devotion. Last week the Kentucky Wildcats showed signs of “we get it!” Evidence:

1. An across-the-board embarrassment at Auburn was like an old fashioned tablespoon of caster oil — “Tastes awful, but open up! Good for ya!”

2. Then, a pair of platinum performances – Arkansas and Vanderbilt. Caster Oil reaction? Fiercely effective defense. Playing at home the Hogs rushed, squealed, panicked, shot 40 per cent and surrendered.

Rhetorical question: When’s the last time Kentucky got out of Fayetteville having committed just seven turnovers? Answer: When Tyler Ulis was five years old. Or, when Nolan Richardson boasted about 40-minutes-of-hell, 2001.

Vandy? A word will do. Smothered! The Commodores had no chance against UK’s inspired defense. They fired up 50 shots, made 16, for 32 percent. Those numbers at Rupp Arena? Get back on the bus.

3. Derek Willis as a starter. A new Tyler Ulis option (when Alex Poythress disappears). “Calm Factor” Willis stretches defenses, moves, screens, uses his feet on defense. And, he is a balance to Jamal Murray’s man-in-a-hurry search for another jump shot.

So, heading to February, Kentucky is starting to get it.

The Wildcats are not front row yet alongside Oklahoma, North Carolina, Iowa and Louisville, but this weekend a giant-leap-forward opportunity presents itself when the 15-4 Wildcats host Missouri (8-11) as a prep for a trip to Kansas (16-3) on Saturday.

UK fans will see just how well their team gets it!

Louisville: SI-worthy?

Surging. Few teams in America are playing better than Louisville and those playing better defense is zero.

Heading to February, we could see unfold a Sports Illustratedworthy story on focus-and-surge while under NCAA Probe guns and squirrely rumors about coaching change to affect recruiting for next year.

When smoke starts to clear next month and Bracketology returns to the conversation, the right media bursts from right mouths could launch Pitino to first College Coach of the Year award (while program is under NCAA investigation).

For the Cardinals this week, opportunity knocks – Virginia and North Carolina at home, then road trips to Duke and Notre Dame.

The Labissiere Qs

With media adulation and expert No. 1 draft pick projections for context, more intrigue than solutions spun around Skal Labissiere last week.

First, an assessment from an NBA official to Kentucky Sports Radio: “He’s starting to concern people. ... He has absolutely no feel for basketball whatsoever.”

Second, that John Calipari is recruiting over Labissiere. Marques Bolden is supposed to be headed to Kansas, but there’s speculation the 6-10 five-star center from DeSoto, Texas is being wooed with visions of Julius Randle’s oneseason at Kentucky on the way to big money.

Increasingly obvious, Labissiere might be, could be, may be ready for a sophomore year. The intrigue becomes, with another parade of one-and-done prospects already headed to Lexington, will John Calipari insist that Skal, a kid lost in weeds of college hoops, be jettisoned into the NBA jungle?

Willis & Scott Padgett

Latest visit to Parallel World: Is Derek Willis the new Scott Padgett? Another native son whose scholarship to Kentucky was more of a token than news bulletin.

When Rick Pitino offered Padgett, the Louisville St. Xavier High School star would have been, in today’s recruiting currency, a borderline 3-star prospect. After taking a year’s sabbatical to grow up, he returned to UK, earned his opportunity and bloomed for Tubby Smith.

Padgett owns an NCAA title ring (1998). Had a cup-of-coffee NBA career. Was assistant coach at Kentucky one season.

Today, two months ahead of 40th birthday, he is head coach at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

Can native son Derek Willis be Kentucky’s next Renaissance Man?

Malik Monk

Hoops fans in Arkansas are still angry.

A look-in last week at Malik Monk in Bentonville, Arkansas tells us why. The 6-3, 185-pounder headed to Kentucky has Tony Delk shooting range, attack-the-basket skill of Isaiah Briscoe, and he dazzles best under brightest lights, thus Rupp Arena.

All showy stuff. Questions Kentucky fans will want answered: Can/will Monk play defense? Can/ will he share the ball with four other McDonalds All-Americans when the big lights come on?

Worth Repeating

Fan writes: “With Kentucky east of the Rocky Mountains, hopefully that means ESPN will never assign Bill Walton to a UK game. Dick Vitale is bad enough. Hopefully, ESPN will also never assign Bobby Knight Jr., a/k/a Dan Dakich, to a UK game either.”

COMMENT: Vitale is still spelled MUTE in my den.

Walton? Seeing Washington- Utah game, alarming how argumentative and off the wall he was.

Dakich? Like others who get face-time jobs in sports, started out well, but soon forgot the golden rule: Know when to shut up. And, like Jay Bilas, Dakich takes himself much too seriously.

And so it goes.

You can reach me at bob.Watkins24@aol.com

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