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The Kentucky Wildcats faced off against the Vikings of Cleveland State in the semifinals of the Cancun challenge Tuesday afternoon. What stood out most to me wasn’t the players or the outcome, but rather the feeling that I was watching a high school basketball game on a local cable channel. I realized that I have been completely spoiled by HD television and coupling that with the strange camera angles due to the small size of the gym, uh I mean ballroom, made watching the game a challenge. Maybe that’s why they named the tournament the Cancun Challenge in the first place, well at least it’s warm there.
The Cats came out of the gate a little less than inspired and struggled to get anything going. UK was pushed around by the much smaller Vikings in the first ten minutes, getting out rebounded and out hustled. Fortunately, the officials couldn’t seem to stop calling fouls and Cleveland State struggled shooting the basketball making only nine field goals in the first half.
The Cats had a double digit lead until a run late in the first half by the Vikings, fueled by what seemed like endless Kentucky turnovers, cut the lead to five points with nine seconds left. That’s when Josh Harrellson hit the most important basket of the game, nailing a three with time expiring to give the Cats the 35-27 lead at the break. This was the turning point of the game as the momentum Cleveland State had been building quickly evaporated. You could just see their heads drop and after halftime the game was never really close. Kentucky wins 73-49.
UK once again struggled with turnovers committing 13 in the first half, before taking better care of the basketball in the second half finishing with 20 for the game. The most concerning part is that the turnovers continue to be unforced and seem to be a product of not valuing the basketball. The players just seem to be a little ADHD at times, but as Calipari would remind us, they are young.
Eric Bledsoe seems to be struggling to find his niche with this team or at least with his role as the second point guard on the court. He seems to be constantly in a hurry and is forcing the issue too much. I’m not sure if he feels pressure to keep up with John Wall or what, but honestly if he doesn’t improve his ball control we could see a lot more of Ramon Harris. Bledsoe needs to focus on being more of a two guard rather than trying to be the second point guard. His ability to score, especially from long distance, is something desperately needed by this team.
Patrick Patterson and Ramon Harris both left the game at different points with apparent ankle and knee injuries respectively. Patterson never returned to the game and may miss the championship game tonight. Harris returned to action in the second half and earned high praise once again for his defensive prowess from Calipari.
Next up for the Cats is a date with the Stanford Redwood trees, I mean Cardinal in the Championship Game Wednesday night. I’m not sure if that’s one cardinal or many cardinals but regardless Stanford defeated Virginia 57-52 to set the match up with the Wildcats. Hopefully Mark Madsen is long gone and the sight of the Duke Blue Devil, head coach Johnny Dawkins, on the Stanford bench will motivate the team to play well and bring home the tournament title.