John Calipari said after Kentucky beat Florida that his team needed a challenge.
The Wildcats certainly got one Saturday night in Nashville. Vanderbilt beat Kentucky on that same court last season, and Kevin Stallings' veteran club was ready to give big blue all it wanted.
To go on the road, in a hostile environment with so many new players, and walk away with a W is impressive. They got an A+ overall as this was not an easy victory by any stretch.
In the end, Kentucky responded to the challenge. They locked up the Commodores in crunch time. Give Calipari's team a lot of credit because Vanderbilt came back from a double-figure deficit at halftime and played a sensational second half. The Commodores even had Kentucky on the ropes, but the 'Cats responded by making big plays on both ends of the court. Vandy simply could not finish off the job.
Anthony Davis showed once again why he is so special. He is a game-changing player on the defensive end, forcing opponents to change their offense. I remember when people said Patrick Ewing was worth 15 points a game before a contest even started. I feel Davis is the same way with his length and shot-blocking ability. His presence on the floor psychologically has an impact.
I really feel he has a legit shot at a grand slam ... Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and eventually, number one pick in the NBA draft. It is a two-man race between Davis and Thomas Robinson of Kansas for the National Player of the Year honors. Right now, off of his all-around performance against Vandy, I would now give him the slightest of edges over Robinson, and everyone knows how much I love Thomas, baby!
It is no accident that Kentucky's defense is suffocating. It takes you out of your rhythm and you cannot get into the flow offensively against the Wildcats.
When you are a strong offensive team like the Commodores, and you have good three-point shooters, Kentucky can adjust and concentrate on stopping your perimeter players. It changed the complexion of the game, especially in the first half as Calipari's team built up a big lead. Then you look at how strong the interior defense is with Davis.
Kentucky's kids take such pride in their defense. That really helps them win. That defense pressure wears on an opponent's mind.
On offense, Kentucky is capable of executing in a halfcourt game. Doron Lamb is a good offensive player who is not just a stationary three-point shooter. Terrence Jones can score when he comes out and plays aggressively. Davis has ability to produce in the interior. Darius Miller can give valuable production. Marquis Teague has matured and doesn't worry as much about scoring as he is doing a nice job distributing the rock and making plays.
Then there is diaper dandy Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had a rough outing against Vanderbilt. He doesn't care about his personal stats, he only cares about winning. Kidd-Gilchrist plays so hard and I love that about him.
It is also tough to zone Kentucky because they love to flip the lob up over the zone for easy baskets and dunks.
Anyone who believes that Calipari is simply a recruiter should think again. When you see him in practice, when you look at his chalkboard before a game, and you watch his players in action, you understand that his teams are so well-coached.
It is amazing because there is such a change of personnel every year. A new gang will come in and to blend them as a unit is something special in coaching. It doesn't matter how talented they are, getting stars to accept their roles is not easy. It will be like that next year too because Calipari brings in a lot of one-and-done players.
Remember this ... Kentucky had a shot to be unbeaten at this point of the season. The Wildcats lost by one point at Indiana on Christian Watford's incredible trifecta at the buzzer. Davis was in foul trouble that game and Terrence Jones was more like an assistant coach on the bench since he was a no-show against the Hoosiers. Indiana also had a stretch where they hit seven straight three-pointers and they still won by just one!
Big Blue nation had to be proud that their team got to the winner's circle in Nashville.
Kentucky is going to be a really tough team to beat come tournament time. To beat the 'Cats, you are going to have to bring your "A" game to score the upset.