Posted by J.M. Brothers on December 12, 2014
It’s been a tough few days for the top-ranked Wildcats. On Friday, it was confirmed that Alex Poythress would miss the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL he sustained during practice – a huge loss in terms of both talent and team morale.
But the team seems to have soldiered on, at least for now. On Saturday afternoon the Wildcats showed some offensive prowess en route to a 14-point win over North Carolina, scoring 84 points and holding the 21st-ranked Tar Heels to 70.
Those 84 points come against a team that has given up an average of 65 points per game in their last six, and is high-ranked in many defensive categories.
The stands at Rupp Arena were riddled with fans wearing Poythress’s #22 jersey, along with shirts saying, “Roar for 22”. Poythress led the team out for warmups on crutches while the crowd erupted in cheers.
Perhaps this explains some of UK’s early energy. Seeing this and hearing the crowd chant his name may have lit the proverbial fire.
UK entered the game ranked 305th in three-pointers, thought you wouldn’t know it by watching. Freshman Devin Booker hit two 3’s and had 10 points in the first ten minutes, ultimately finishing 3 for 3 on the night and tied for a team-high in points with 15.
Aaron Harrison added three more 3’s of his own, scoring 9 of his 14 points from beyond the arc.
The team’s two goliaths, Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein, did their part as well. In addition to 7 points, Johnson had 3 steals, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Cauley-Stein had the team-high in minutes played (28), points (tied - 15), rebounds (6), and steals (4).
Trey Lyles, who replaced Poythress in the first squad, finished with 9 points and 3 rebounds.
The good news is, Poythress is still on the bench with the boys, and he’s in the locker room too. Several times throughout the broadcast the camera pointed towards him, clapping and smiling as he cheered on his team. He may not be in the lineup anymore, but having him present and available for moral support is still an invaluable asset that shouldn’t be overlooked.
All in all, the Cats (11-0) comfortably defeated a fairly good team, and it wasn’t because the Tar Heels played poorly. On the contrary, they put up a good fight.
“We still haven’t figured out how we want to play,” Coach Calipari said after the game. “But I think we’re getting closer.”
We agree. They looked good out there, but it’s hard to gauge for sure how the loss of Poythress will affect them in the long run.
When a team loses a big player, in any sport, one of two things can happen. Either it inspires the team, and they rally behind it, feeding off the energy and added opportunity of the situation; or they ultimately wilt under the pressure and harp too much on the absence, falling on hard times without fully recovering.
For UK fans, after this successful stint against the Tar Heels, it’s a case of “So far, so good,” but it’s still a fresh wound, and they need to establish some new momentum first before we all jump to conclusions. Time will tell.
We open the floor up to you, readers:
Which do you think it will be?
Are you worried about the effect Poythress’s absence will have on UK?
Or are you optimistic and excited about the possibilities this may provide?