- Wednesday, December 23 2009 -
Long Beach State - 73 (Head Coach: Dan Monson) - [Unranked]
Kentucky - 86 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 3rd by AP and 3rd by ESPN/USA Today]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 37, Long Beach State 37
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Drexel 88 - 44|||||Hartford 104 - 61|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats avoid letdown, shake off pesky Long Beach
In the day between Kentucky's 2,000th all-time victory and its final tip before the Christmas holiday John Calipari wondered aloud whether his Kentucky basketball team would be mentally prepared to play just 36 hours after the program's euphoric celebration. His concerns were clearly valid.
The Cats didn't arrive with much energy or enthusiasm but pulled away late for an 86-73 victory over a Long Beach State club that was considered dangerous enough to threaten UK's perfect record. UK turned a three-point lead with 11 minutes to go into a mini-runaway, leaving the 24,288 fans who showed up for the unusual midweek afternoon tip with an early Christmas gift.
"I've done this so long that there are certain things you can expect," Calipari said. "The game before Christmas after the 2,000 wins where there is a celebration and people are going nuts there is probably going to be a little bit of a letdown the next game. The good news was at the end of the game we were able to grind it out and execute everything to a 'T' down the stretch when we had to make plays. That was a good sign."
Calipari's biggest fears came true in the first half when Long Beach State got off to a solid start, giving it a great deal of confidence as the Cats struggled to find their stride. It didn't help matters that DeMarcus Cousins, who had been lauded for his composure in recent weeks, drew a technical foul 136 seconds into the game for his second foul, sending him to the bench the rest of the half. Star guard John Wall followed with 12 minutes to go after being whistled for his second foul on charge in transition and veteran stabilizing influence Patrick Patterson joined the parade of foul plagued players to the pine with 7:41 to go.
The result was predictable as UK meandered through the rest of the first half with little direction on offense and suspect execution on defense. Although the 49ers banked in two wildly off balance shots - including a three-pointer - at the shot clock buzzer many of their looks came way too easy against a UK team that has been preaching defensive intensity, leading to a tie game at the break.
"We have a big name coach and big name players so the expectations are really high," senior forward Ramon Harris said. "I think we need to take it game-by-game and let guys grow a little bit. Today was a prime example because we're tied at halftime so really the momentum went to them because we're a big name school and they're not a so-called big name school and they were tied at halftime in Rupp."
Perhaps in a stroke of good luck for the Cats, Long Beach State couldn't take full advantage of the absence of UK's top three players, leaving the 49ers shaking their head and the door cracked for the Cats to avoid the pressure of having to rally from a deficit.
"When you're playing a team of that caliber our margin for error is so small," Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said. "We got Wall and Cousins out in the first half and it was still only tied so we squandered a little opportunity. You knew it would be a whole different second half. It was like a heavyweight fighter battling a weight class lower, we just didn't have an answer inside and couldn't match up. They just wore us down.
"They're awful good by the way."
There was certainly ample reason for Calipari to bite his fingernails entering the game. Several players admitted they were awake until the wee hours of the morning after partaking in the confetti-covered celebration of the Drexel victory and were possibly looking forward to two days at home with family and friends before returning to Lexington. On the flip side, Long Beach State offered a young, but talented, lineup and a battle tested approach after having already faced Notre Dame, Texas, Clemson, West Virginia and UCLA this season.
"I've watched their team a lot and I was scared to death of this game," Calipari said. "Their little point guard is a man, they've got two good of shooters and we'll see and they've got athletic big guys who shoot it and go get it, that's all they do. They were good.
"It was (the date) and the opponent, it was everything. If it had been a different opponent I would have been less anxious, but this was a team that could make shots and was athletic enough to stay with us."
Monson downplayed the possibility of UK's elaborate celebration less than two days earlier causing the Cats' suspect disposition but offered his thanks his team wasn't the sacrificial lamb for win number 2,000.
"That's a question for them but they're not going to play perfect every game," Monson said of the potential letdown by UK. "I'd like to say we caused them to do things they don't normally do, but I will say this, I'm glad we weren't Drexel. I was watching the Drexel game while I was shaving and I was ready to commit suicide."
As it stands, it was another lesson learned for the Cats.
"These are all lessons for this team," Calipari said. "They're so inexperienced, so young and they don't understand. The lessons learned are more about respecting each game and being focused enough and mature enough to get yourself ready."
DeMarcus Cousins (#15) dunks
Josh Harrellson shoots
UK Great Kenny Walker forms the Y