JONES: Cats have "feel good" game for many

On a cold post-Thanksgiving Friday night, Kentucky produced what was likely their finest team performance of the season, beating the Liberty Falwells 81-51. While the game produced a great number of stellar performances, virtuoso plays and intriguing matchups, I thought I would ignore all of those and instead focus on these tidbits.

• I cannot remember a more confounding performance in the last few years by the University of Kentucky than what occurred during the Guardian's Classic. Unlike various points during the 2000 and 2001 seasons when the team looked overmatched against quality opponents and during the 2003 and 2004 season when they would run over top-ranked teams, the two games in Kansas City produced nothing close to consensus. A pessimist would say that Kentucky looked absolutely dreadful on offense during the Iowa game and were fortunate to win the next night when West Virginia missed a host of open three pointers. The optimist might counter by noting that as poorly as Kentucky played, they were one careless pass off a rebound from having the ball with the game tied and less than a minute to play against Iowa and that they led from beginning to end against the Mountaineers.

Either way, the feeling amongst most Kentucky fans was dread, in part because most could not see the West Virginia game and in part because that is what we Kentucky fans do. However coming into tonight, it really was up in the air what we would see.

• With that as the backdrop, all Kentucky fans should feel good about tonight's performance. The team played its most complete game of the season, letting Liberty hang around a bit in the first half, but never seeming out of control. The big story of the night was the breakout game of Bobby Perry, who set his career high with three minutes to play in the first half. Perry finished with 22 points, and only produced one "Jared Prickett" (missed layup) in over 25 minutes of action. Perry, who after the game credited his brother for his late-night work in helping him finish around the basket, would have been proud of that very same brother who told all who would listen before the game that this "would be Bobby's night!" It was, and one could see the glee in Tubby Smith's eyes after the game as success found a player who embodies the Tubby Smith philosophy.

• Equally as exciting to see was the strong performance by everyone's favorite spunky guard, Brandon Stockton. For those who were fortunate enough to see Brandon play for mighty Glasgow, his performance at Kentucky has been a bit of a disappointment, as he has found very little outlet for his exciting brand of basketball. I have always traced his problems back to the Louisville game in Rupp Arena two years ago, when Stockton turned the ball over on three straight possessions and truly never seemed to ever regain his confidence for the rest of the season. However tonight showcased the old Stockton, even if it was just for a few moments. He hit two three pointers, garnered one brilliant steal and generally managed the game well during his duties as backup point guard. Stockton mentioned to me after the game that he Coach Smith had told him that if he kept working this season, his opportunity would come. Like Perry, Stockton is one of the good guys, and when his time did come tonight, you could see all of his teammates and coaches were very happy for his success.

• Whether due to his fondness for turkey or his happiness with the Cats' performance, it was an almost jovial Tubby Smith during the post game press conference. He emphasized how happy he was with the play of Perry, the increased emphasis on rebounding, the stellar three point shooting and the emergence of Jared Carter. His glee was unstoppable, leading him to scold one reporter who dared ask about the continued poor free throw shooting, saying, "I am not going to focus on the negative things tonight." For a coach who looked as utterly perplexed as anyone has ever seen him after the Iowa game, the palpable change in his mood this evening was striking.

• One of the funnier running subplots I have enjoyed watching after the games is the mini-battle between the Kentucky Media Relations team and the players for their wardrobe during post-game interviews. The media folks (who do a great job) are understandably, protective of the players and want them to give off the best image to the state as a whole. The players of course just want to be themselves. Thus you have the seen like tonight with Bobby Perry in a toboggin and Ramel Bradley wearing a bit of bling, and the media staff imploring them to remove both pieces. Perry and Bradley playfully declined and the players scored a point, giving them the lead in this ongoing feud.

• For those of you that have not been to a game in Rupp Arena this season, the University is doing a great promotion where each game this season focuses on a great moment in the history of Rupp Arena. The moment for tonight was Kentucky's victory over Louisville in 1983 during the first regular season game of the renewed rivalry. Throughout the game, the jumbotron shows game clips of the old game and trivia contests are given about the old matchup. I hope that the University makes these videos available online, and all fans should check them out.

• I had a very interesting interview after the game with Ramel Bradley concerning his mindset in the last few weeks. Like many of you, I saw Bradley seem to be sulking at the end of the West Virginia game and sitting down emotionless on the bench while his teammates were cheering on the victory. I asked Bradley about that reaction, and he acknowledged his frustration. He said, "I was just frustrated at the end of that game. I didn't know what Coach wanted me to do. Sometimes when I play, I don't know whether he wants me to shoot or not and it throws me off my game. I have to find a way to work in his system but sometimes it is tough and I get frustrated." Bradley made clear that he thinks he can play within the system, but he isn't always thrilled with it. He said he catches himself "thinking too much", making it difficult for him to get in the flow of the game. I love Ramel Bradley and think he will be a star in the next two seasons at Kentucky. But this is not the first time these complaints have been raised and I believe this is a subplot to the season that should be watched.

• Yes that was Adam Williams getting way, way up in the air to throw down the follow-up jam at the end of the contest. Many who have not seem Williams play a great deal are not familiar with his ways, but I have had more than one player tell me that he is one of the best couple of athletes on the team. Williams has won multiple dunk contests in his past and has the athletic ability to be a Division I player. This will not be his season, but if Rondo leaves at the end of the season (which he will), Williams will see some time next year.

• Finally a word on Randolph Morris. First, it should be noted that he is without question the finest dresser on the UK sideline. The man went with a pink shirt and a pink tie tonight (showing he is comfortable in his masculinity) and looking much smoother than fellow suit-wearer Joe Crawford (although points go to Crawford for his Zebra-colored snake skin shoes). More importantly however, the consensus seems to be that Morris will be reinstated by the NCAA and that the dispute now is just how much time he will miss. A source close to the situation told me that the haggling now is just over details and that the University has gotten the good news that it wanted this week. We shall see, but the Morris watch (which once looked dismal) seems to be a bit brighter this weekend.

Thats all for now, and to answer the question many of you are thinking.....no, it does not give me any joy at all that we spanked the team of Jerry Falwell. Sure, maybe I was smiling the whole game at the thought of him grimacing, but if so it was purely coincidental.


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