Marquis Teague and the Wildcats star freshman are growing up quickly
After the Kentucky Wildcats' exhausting 73-64 road win over Mississippi State on Tuesday night, the rest of the country was put on alert. This Wildcats team is John Calipari's best chance at a national championship since he put on the whistle in Lexington.
Kentucky is now an impressive 27-1 on the season, with their only blemish coming on the road in a hostile environment, facing a talented Indiana team which was peaking at that point in the season.
The team is undefeated in conference play at 13-0, dominating their Southeastern Conference opponents throughout the season. With only a week-and-a-half remaining in the regular season, the team's victory over the Bulldogs taught us five things about Kentucky's 2011-2012 team.
Each one of these valuable tidbits gives us reason to believe that Coach Cal's young studs are ready to give him his first title as a head basketball coach.
The Wildcats faced their biggest halftime deficit all season long when they were trailing 41-28 against the Bulldogs. While many teams would have folded or became rattled trailing by 13 points, Kentucky kept their poise and slowly climbed their way back into the game.
What was most impressive about this game was that no matter how many times Mississippi State hit big shots to extend their lead in the second half in front of their rowdy home crowd at Humphrey Coliseum, they never relented. It's important to note that "The Hump" is one of the most difficult places in the country for road teams to play, and the Wildcats refused to become rattled by the boisterous crowd.
Earlier this month, the Wildcats thoroughly dominated the Florida Gators 78-58 at Rupp Arena. What made that victory so impressive is the backcourt the Gators have. A four-headed monster of Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker, Brad Beal and Mike Rosario didn't fluster the Wildcats at any point in the game.
Although Boynton and Beal scored 18 and 14 points, respectively, they held the 5'8" senior Walker to zero points on 0-11 shooting on the night. They also held former Rutgers star Mike Rosario to only three points total.
Tuesday night against Mississippi State, the Wildcats faced a loaded Mississippi State frontcourt featurning 6'11" center Arnett Moultrie and 6'10", 280 pound power forward Renardo Sidney. While Moultrie had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, Sidney was held to three points, which came on a shot to open the game.
In these two games, Kentucky proved that no matter what kind of personnel their opposition has, they are equipped to handle them.
While many of us already knew that Anthony Davis was a star, he solidified his status on Tuesday night. Against the Bulldogs enormous frontcourt tandem, he tallied 13 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. He shot the ball efficiently, making 4-9 shots from the field while getting to the line six times and converting on five attempts.
He may only be a freshman, but he plays with the consistency and poise of an upperclassman and leaves his imprint on each and every Kentucky game. After last night's game, he further expanded his resume for the 2012 Naismith National College Player of the Year.
If Anthony Davis is the star of the Kentucky Wildcats, then Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the heart and soul of the team. If not for the 6'7" small forward, the team would not be as good as they have been this season. Last night, he again willed himself to 18 points and 10 rebounds while putting the team on his back.
He shot an impressive 7-12 from the field and 4-5 from the free throw line while also contributing two steals and two blocks. His and-one at the 4:11 mark changed the course of the game for Kentucky. It came off a rebound from his own missed shot and gave UK their first lead of the game.
In what has become a theme for the Wildcats this year, they follow the lead of Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays with as much heart as anyone in America.
Many people have argued that John Calipari will never be able to win a national championship with a team made up of mostly first-year college players. He could prove the doubters wrong this season with senior Darius Miller providing the veteran leadership and stability crucial to NCAA tournament success.
The 6'8" senior small forward may only be the sixth man for UK, but he is just as important to the team's success as Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. When they need a big shot, they look to Miller.
He's averaging 10 points per game on the season, and when the Wildcats are in close games in NCAA tournament play, they will rely on the future NBA player to lead them.