March 11th 2013
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If the Kentucky defense that we saw in the last seven-and-a-half minutes of that Florida win keeps showing up, UK won't have to worry itself with "bubble" talk.
I think horse racing can provide some good analogies for other sports and the folks who follow the ponies will tell you if a horse suddenly does something it hasn't done before (a frontrunner loses a lead but then battles back to win maybe), then that is often a sign of an improved horse. And the Wildcats did something down the stretch in this game that they have not done much, if at all, this season.
The big difference I saw in Kentucky in those final minutes was how it guarded the Gators, who are the SEC's most efficient offensive team and the league-leader in field goal percentage (49 percent per game and 40 percent on three's).
UK and Florida both rank at the top of the SEC in defensive field goal percentage but the "eye test" tells you that the Wildcats have had trouble all season long in containing dribble penetration. When there's not shotblocker in the paint, it becomes drive-thru banking time for the opponents and that's reflected in a rather obscure stat.
While both the Cats and Gators rank in the top 10 nationally in terms of defense on shots inside the three-point line (42 percent going into last Saturday's game), if you take out the shots that were not blocked and suddenly Kentucky drops to 50th while Florida stays in the top 10.
Well, in those final eight minutes, Kentucky forced the Gators into 11 missed shots and none of them were the results of blocks--because of Willie Cauley-Stein's foul trouble. Kentucky was switching defenders on Florida's patented pick-and-roll plays and during that homestretch run, there was a possession in which Alex Poythress was matched up on a driving Scottie Wilbekin. All season long, that kind of mismatch has resulted in baskets and /or fouls but Poythress played it perfectly, misdirecting Wilbekin into a missed shot.
That's one example of the kind of defensive that happened on possession after possession in those final minutes and it's why Kentucky won a game for the first time all season when it failed to crack 40 percent from the field with its own shots. And it was just the second time in nine tries that UK won a game in which it failed to crack the 70-point barrier.
You have to win those kinds of games in the postseason and if this team can sustain that kind of defensive effort, it has a chance to make a little noise in March.
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