Not pretty, but Cats beat Jackrabbits 71-54

The South Dakota St. Jackrabbits. Not exactly the type of name that usually draws fear in the minds of the average college basketball fan. And to be fair, the result of Sunday night's game in Rupp Arena was never in doubt. Kentucky grabbed a ten point lead early and then had a typical Kentucky game.

There were sparks of greatness in the form of Joe Crawford's penetration, Sheray Thomas' hustle and Rajon Rondo's normalcy (17 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 6 steals). But they were followed with fits of boredom and sluggishness in the form of a lackadaisical Patrick Sparks, a distracted Ravi Moss and a lost Lukask Obrzut. The lead fluctuated between ten and twenty throughout and at the end the Cats pulled out a 17 point win that will not be too embarrassing when seen on SportsCenter.

Nevertheless for the neurotic Kentucky fan, (and when it comes to the Wildcats, aren't we all a little like Woody Allen), there was much to fret about on Sunday. The offense showed signs of the typical early season drudgery that has characterized Tubby Smith teams in recent years. Unlike past teams that struggled to find shooters in the half court, this team has a host of options, but none of them could get firing on Sunday. The ball rarely saw the post and often the guards, even the great Rondo, seemed to be forcing the action.

In addition, Kentucky seemed to be able to get little going in their transition game. Against a team such as the Jackrabbits, Kentucky wants to get the action moving, use their depth and wear down the opponent towards the end of the second half. However as Tubby Smith noted in his press conference, the full-court press yielded no results and the Cats missed so many open layups that they looked like a team full of men wearing jerseys with the name "Prickett" on the back.

Even more distressingly, the Cats 21 feet of centers exceeded in mediocrity, scoring a combined six points in thirty-six minutes of action and allowing a number of rebounds to fall into their much shorter opponents' hands. While it would be improper to make any judgments about a developmental freshman in his first game such as Jared Carter, things are not looking good for the other giants in the Kentucky lineup.

Shagari Alleyne continues to thrill the crowd with his powerful dunks and energizing blocks, but frustrates the coaches to no end with his astonishing inability to get in position on defense and his Refrigerator Perry-esque lack of quickness. Things aren't any better for Lukask Obrzut who has produced a mind-numbing amount of dropped passes and defensive mishaps. While it is clear that Obrzut has the most to offer of the current big man, his situation continues to decline, leading Coach Smith to move Woo from a starter in the first half to "DNP — Coach's Decision" in the second.

So there is much to be pessimistic about. How in the world will ever be able to compete with teams like Texas, that are physical and will get after the offensive glass? Do we have a chance against our rival Louisville, with their quick guards and finally coifed Coach? And is it even possible that we can deal with Lipscomb, who may just win the Atlantic Sun conference, a league known to produce the types of teams that make you want to holla'.

Yet, it is important to remember this is the first game. No national championship has been won or lost in the opening weekend (well unless you count Virginia who all but lost the national title when they hit the beaches of Chaminade), and there is much positive for the observer to see. Seasoned observers of the Cats notice the potential of scoring prowess not seen in Lexington in quite some time. Rekalin Sims gives a scoring option at the power forward position that has been missing since Walter McCarty, Joe Crawford has the potential to exceed Kelenna Azubuike in the explosiveness column and the Sparks-Rondo combo has yet to disappoint. Yes, maybe we should take the advice of one longtime Kentucky usher who told me after the game, "I am not ready to give up on these boys just yet." Not giving up on your team after one game.....that is the kind of optimism we should all get behind.

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