[Even our baseball expert Adam “Shem” Shemesh has caught the Madness! You have to love the single-elimination craziness that is March.
Adam weighs in here with a piece on the Cats and their win in Memphis. My position on Calipari is well-established (and documented), consistent with the thinking of the great Robert Montgomery Knight. Nonetheless, his win totals keep climbing. Alas, there is no poetic justice in sports. You can just ask the poor SI Kids reporter who set the Twitter-sphere on fire in the early AM hours.]
Last night, the Kentucky Wildcats took on the UCLA Bruins in Memphis. The game was heavily advertised and billed as a top Sweet 16 matchup.
For the first half, most of the headlines remained true. The two teams went at it exchanging lovetaps. Much-hyped Lonzo Ball sunk a three early and assisted on some nice passes, and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox countered with 15 first half points. The role players also shone. T. J. Leaf was a strong presence inside for UCLA, and he led the team with 17 points on the night. On the other side of the ball, Malik Monk mixed in 7 first half tallies with a pair of steals and rebounds. Overall, the fast pace of play was refreshing, considering this writer was watching NBA basketball prior to turning on CBS for some college hoops. Kentucky led, 36-33, at the break.
In the second half, the Wildcats exploded, outscoring UCLA 50-42. Fox finished with an amazing 39 points, the highest total of any player this March. He did that while missing his only three point attempt, grinding for 13-20 shooting and making 13-15 free throws. UCLA, in their own right, had three double-digit scorers in Leaf (17), Lonzo Ball (10), Isaac Hamilton (13), and Bryce Alford (10). Some of those points came during the last five minutes or so, when Kentucky had built up a steady lead. With the 86-75 win, the Wildcats are moving on to yet another Elite Eight appearance under coach John Calipari’s reign.
“Coach Cal” has popularized the term “one-and-done”, referring to Kentucky’s basketball program as a machine, annually pumping out NBA-ready talent. One of his one-and-done’s is Devin Booker, who was part of the magical run the Cats had during the 2014-15 season. While the Wildcats were playing on Friday night, Booker, now on the Phoenix Suns, etched his name in the record books by becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to score 70 points in a single game. He achieved the feat against the Boston Celtics, shooting 21/40 from the field, and nailing 25 free throws. When told the news after the game, Calipari exclaimed “He just showed up our whole team. We just had a great win, and everybody’s going to be talking about Devin Booker now.”
Booker is just one of many NBA superstars that have gone through Lexington. Other notable names include Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans) and reigning NBA ROY Karl-Anthony Towns.
Calipari has turned the concept of one-and-done into an art form. Booker and the former Wildcats are reaping the benefits.