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When the ice storm let go its grip on Kentucky this week, emerging from the icy fog near the summit of college basketball was University of Louisville.
Rick Pitino’s Cardinals finished January, 9-0. A month bejeweled with upsets, last second winning shots yo-yoing teams across the landscape, Pitino’s club discovered its team-ness and found itself a (UConn) win away from basketball’s pinnacle.
How it’s happened? Pitino found a buyer for his system. All of it.
Energy. A man-up backcourt become happy with platoon.
Grow up. Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings, even George Goode have.
Hammer in velvet with attitude. Earl Clark.
Linchpin. Leader of men Terrance Williams’s shot selection in January was immaculate and contagious.
Bench ensemble - the centers, Preston Knowles, Reggie Delk, Jared Swopshire, Will Scott Inc.
And, discipline. (Trumpets, please) Edgar Sosa finally got it ‘... don’t have to be a hero every night.’
Postscript: Too bad about Derrick Caracter.
South Carolina’s stunner at Kentucky last week looked Devan Downey frenetic, but the job coach Darrin Horn did was exquisite. Exemplary leadership and poise we expected. Kept his referee whine to a minimum and most telling, when UK made its last charge, Horn used time-outs and results coming out of them perfectly. His Gamecocks listened, didn’t panic, would not surrender and earned their reward.
All things considered, Horn’s was the finest coaching performance for a visiting coach to Rupp Arena I can remember. University of South Carolina would do well to lock up its coach with a contract extension.
UofL’s WILL SCOTT
Time when life is good as it gets. Imagine being 24 years old, a college athlete competing in America’s best league, on a team that might be the best, learning from arguably best coach in the game.
Could life be better? Only if your name is Will Scott. When Louisville’s Shootist steps out at Freedom Hall Mar. 4 for Senior Day the former walk-on will receive a standing ovation, hugs from Mom and dad, a pearly smile from Pitino. And another NCAA Tournament to go.
Afterwards, Scott takes a Masters Degree away from UofL and rides off to a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. An ultimate bastion of higher higher learning nestled in the green flats of central England where he will study and stroll hamlets called Chipping Norton, Henley-on-Thames and Stowe-on-Wold.
For Will Scott, scholar-athlete ... life is good as it gets.
BRAVO, BILLY CLYDE
Kentucky’s Gillispie did his job poorly in back-to-back losses, but Kentucky’s coach scolding a sideline reporter for asking a bad question about a player instead of his team at halftime in Oxford was dead on right.
The ESPN reporter did ask a bad question. ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards stopped the visiting coach whose team had a two-point lead in spite no field goals from its leading scorer and asked about Jodie Meeks?
“That’s a bad question” Gillispie shot back. “This isn’t a one man team.”
Bottom line: ESPN set up its klieg lights in Oxford for a ratings bounce on Meeks’ play, but Edwards apparently didn’t notice a five-on-five team game break out.
A television audience got to see Gillispie turn testy with a smile barely masking his dismay. Wonder how Bob Knight would’ve handled it?
BOO, BILLY CLYDE
At Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy outfoxed Gillispie and the Rebels embarrassed Kentucky. An ordinary Ole Miss team, minus three regulars, was going to be a chump walk-over for high flying Kentucky, right? Wrong! Patrick Patterson admitted the team ignored the scouting report.
Kennedy sensed the Wildcats were ripe. Strategy: Make running around picks tough for Jodie Meeks; get a few perimeter baskets from rookie Terrico White and head-case David Huertas. Get the crowd up and see how things were at three minute mark.
Kennedy also needed Perry Stevenson to take a night off. He did. Gave DeAndre Liggins any shot he wanted. He took them, mostly cow bell clangers. It all left Patterson frustrated, Meeks locked up and Gillispie did the rest. He had no answers, used no substitutes to fight the Rebs for rebounds and had no stops on Terrico White and Huertas.
Then came South Carolina in Rupp Arena. Aided by another deluge of UK turnovers, mindless play by Liggins, a technical foul and two time outs at 3.2 seconds by Gillispie without getting the ball to midcourt and boom! Carolina had shocked Kentucky.
When it was over Gillispie hurried past Darrin Horn who had just earned the biggest win of his coaching life. No class.
STEP-UP TIME FOR BALL COACHES
With bailouts and belt tightening in vogue, what better time for college sports administrators and elite coaches to sacrifice for the team? Which of these ball coaches is willing to take a pay cut, say, down to President of the United States levels - $400,000? Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Billy Clyde Gillispie?
I think time has come for seven-figure ball coaches, to step up and show Americans how they can survive on $400,000 a year.
Who’s going first? Tom Jurich? Mitch Barnhart?
• When TV talking heads turn righteous i.e. Dennis Felton being fired in mid-season at Georgia, they ignore these realities: Sagging attendance and possibility “players quit on this coach.” No mention either that Felton won’t starve.
And so it goes.
You can write bob Watkins at SprtsinKy@aol.com