Last weekend provided enough drama moments to wake up even the sleep-walking Kentucky Wildcats.
√ In Lexington, a season first. Julius Randle scored a game-winner against LSU igniting a player pile-on. A what? Fans witnessed a flicker of college-kid-joy when a couple teammates pummeled Randle. Then the Wildcats put their NBA faces back on.
√ Louisville. Down a point in Cincinnati and last seconds ticking off the clock, Russ Smith rose for a jump shot. Then, in an Earth-must-have changed-on-its-axis nano-second, he passed the ball, got a pass back and swished a falling down jumper to stun Cincinnati at home, and rocket the Cardinals into top two seed talk. Russ doth adore Russ Hero Moments. Kid is a winner, period.
From the No Kidding Dept. a national writer concluded the No. 7 Louisville’s body of work this season has come against a weaker schedule … but the Cards might not be as far behind the championship team as perceived.” Really?
√ In Bowling Green Western’s defense smothered Louisiana Monroe without a field goal for nine minutes, built an 18-1 lead, and stopped a two game skid. The Hilltoppers (18-9) have four regular season games left in the Sun Belt.
√ At Auburn Vanderbilt’s starters decided to coast against the Tigers and fell behind by 16. Kevin Stallings did what good coaches do, skipped the plead and whine and sat them down, inserted two walk-ons who fired the Commodores to their 16th win.
√ At Durham, North Carolina, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim waited 39 minutes and 40 seconds of game action before showing his Lou Piniella side.
In front of Cameron’s Crazies and a national teevee audience, Boeheim tore at his jacket, ran onto the floor to protest a call with 20 seconds left in a two-point game. Two technicals and one ejection later his No. 1 ranked team was, well, not number one. Replays showed referee Tony Green got the call right.
Was a rev-up weekend for stretch run games, conference tournaments and Joe Lunardi’s Big Pairings Show.
Kentucky’s overtime win against LSU told us …
• Before March Madness and packed in zone defenses arrive, the Wildcats had better find a Russ Smith-like jump shot range.
• If LSU coach Johnny Jones can persuade his players to believe every opponent ahead is Kentucky, then his 11-loss Tigers belong in the NCAA Tournament. If not, NIT.
• Good thing: Another 20-win season. John Calipari low balls all games that don’t have word tournament in front, but by their presence for games in Rupp Arena, fans value every W, even the marshmallows.
• Not good: Favored by 12, UK needed an overtime to beat LSU by one at home. Five assists isn’t good either.
• Best coach thing: Calipari behaved less like Bozo the Clown than usual.
• Best coach thing II: Although well behind the curve, Calipari said something of substance. “We’re still coach-driven instead player-driven. We’ve got to get to where I’m doing less, and they’re doing more.”
Amen to the last part. To the first: Calipari’s remark would have fit six weeks ago.
JUST WONDERING DEPT.
• He isn’t Larry, but isn’t Creighton’s Doug McDermott is the most entertaining player in college hoops since Larry Bird?
• Coaches. Raise your hand if you love watching Mick Cronin coach Cincinnati’s Bearcats.
• Intrigue Dept. Labeled too short and not physical enough, where will they be in five years: Johnny Manziel and Russ Smith?
• Ideas Dept. University of Kentucky’s cheerleaders won their 20th national championship recently. Maybe an enterprising filmmaker could put together a documentary, present it to KET, then we could all see what the big deal is.
And so it goes.