And 1: Kentucky 73, Stanford 65 (OT)

Men's Basketball Writer Kevin "Kevo" Danna provides the Bootleg faithful a look at the game flow, stats, facts, and his keen observations after Stanford came oh-so-close to pulling off the stunning upset, ultimately losing to the 5th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in overtime, 73-65, in the Cancun Challenge championship game on Thursday evening.

Over the course of Head Coach Johnny Dawkins' first 39 games, Stanford basketball had six absolutely heart-breaking losses.  Contest #40 didn't provide any relief, as Stanford fought valiantly only to drop an overtime decision to the fifth-ranked team in the country.  While the Card were not able to pull off the upset, there was still PLENTY to be pleased about throughout the 45 minutes of the game.

First, hats off to Coach Dawkins and his staff for implementing a masterful game plan and really outcoaching one of the biggest household names in college basketball in coach John Calipari.  As many Booties have alluded to in the discussion forums, the in-game management was superb by Coach Dawkins.  In one instance, Kentucky called timeout with the ball and six seconds to go in the shot clock.  Having been in a zone for that possession, Coach Dawkins and staff recognized the game situation well and went to man for the final six seconds.  In a man-to-man defense with that little time left on the clock, it would be hard for any Wildcat to successfully break anyone down one-on-one and get an easy bucket.  If you stay in zone, however, there are more opportunities for an open look on the perimeter with a quick pass into the low block and a kick-out.  The result of the switch to man: a well-contested shot forced up by John Wall as the shot clock expired and he missed pretty badly.  Stanford got the rebound and went the other way to set up the offense.  On the other half of the court, Coach Dawkins did a good job of getting guys to be patient and take a lot of time off the shot clock to shorten the game.  Very rarely did we see a rushed shot only 10 seconds into the shot clock; instead, there were very good ball reversals around the perimeter and our guys picked their spots from there.

As much as we praise Coach Dawkins, a lot of credit has to be given to the guys on the floor for executing the game plan.  The group was very resilient tonight and did not let Kentucky's runs get out of hand.  The Wildcats seemed as if they were going to break the game open about eight minutes into the game as they raced out to a 19-11 lead, but the Cardinal fought back quickly on the next possession with a Jeremy Green three-pointer that sparked an 11-0 run to put Stanford up three.  Stanford continued be hard to crack into the second half, where it took Kentucky until the 6:42 mark to go up 54-53.  The Wildcats would then add another bucket to hold a three-point advantage, but Stanford was able to stay in the game thanks to superb defense and eventually re-took the lead and would hold it until Wall tied it with a couple of free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining to send it to overtime.

The line-up of Mann-Shiller-Green-Fields-Trotter worked very well when they were in as a cohesive unit, and when Mann picked up his second foul with just under eight minutes to go in the first half, Da'Veed Dildy stepped in well.  That was a very telling time for this Stanford team with the team's best penetrator and ball-handler out for the rest of the half, how would they respond?  Extremely well would be the operative phrase, as Stanford pushed a 22-21 lead to 38-32 at the break without the sophomore floor general on the court.

Time for individual shout-outs now.  As what has almost become tradition for Kevo, he will applaud the play of sophomore post-player Jack Trotter.  Big Jack, who stands at 6'9'' and weighs 220 lbs, went up against DeMarcus Cousins, a 6'11'', 260-pound physical specimen.  Although he was giving up two inches and 40 big ones, Trotter held Cousins to 13 points and five rebounds, keeping him to his season scoring average and over two rebounds below his boarding clip for the year.  Only two points and one rebound for Trotter, but Jack really neutralized the freshman star center for Kentucky and kept him in check.  Trotter also did a very good job of boxing out, and had a Wildcat go blatantly over his back on at least one occasion (even if it went unnoticed by the zebras).

I also thought Dildy did very well in spot point guard duties.  When Mann went out with his second foul, Da'Veed came in and had great control of the offense.  One play that really stood out was late in the first half where Stanford had a great defensive possession, forcing a miss and collecting the rebound.  Landry Fields thought about pushing the ball up the court in transition, but with nothing really brewing up the court, Dildy calmly asked for the ball, brought in the half court and got the team into its offense.  Dildy is not a guy who is going to always show up big in the stat sheets, but he really helps the offense flow smoothly and is great defensively with his length and ability to get into passing lanes.

How about Andrew Zimmermann?!  After a first half that I'm sure Andrew would like to have back, the Wisconsin native was HUGE down the stretch, converting a runner in the lane in transition and hitting two, clutch outside jumpers, the last one putting Stanford up 61-59 with 2:07 remaining.  Furthermore, AZ came up big defensively by drawing a charge on DeMarcus Cousins on the next possession and grabbing five rebounds, four of them on the offensive glass.

Of course, our leading scorers on the season, Fields and Jeremy Green, came up big as always.  Landry might not have had it going from long range, but he was fantastic in getting to the hoop, drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe.  A 67%ish free throw shooter coming into the game, Landry was 11-14 from the line tonight and did not miss a dead-ball 15-footer over the last few minutes of the second half.  Again, Landry was able to lead by example in hitting four clutch free throws.  Fields also was very active on the offensive glass, getting a nice put-back dunk on a missed Dildy lay-up in the first half and finished with five offensive rebounds and 13 boards overall to complement his 23 points.  Green was in the building and feeling himself all night.  It seemed as though he and Wall were playing HORSE in the first half by trading threes back and forth.  Jeremy was just in a zone tonight, hitting shots off the catch and also off the dribble to finish with 18 points on 5-8 shooting from beyond the arc.

My heart really goes out to Jarrett Mann, who was unable to put the game on ice.  He played such a good game up to that point and only turned the ball over once against an aggressive Wildcat defense.  Even after he missed the two free throws, Jarrett stuck with his attacking mindset and got fouled on a drive.  This kid does not shy away from the foul line.  He has already made big strides in his shooting form and release, and he'll get it down.  I know the fire definitely burns deep inside him to get better as a player.  Mark my words - Jarrett Mann will become a very clutch free-throw shooter with time.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.  Kentucky wins the highly-esteemed Cancun Challenge trophy with the overtime decision and Stanford returns to Palo Alto at 3-3 on the season.  However, our guys really played their hearts out tonight.  Consider this: at the half, Stanford was holding the Caliparis to 35.5% shooting and were knotted up at 16 in the rebounding column.  While Kentucky would end up out-boarding the Cardinal 39-34, Stanford was able to grab as many offensive rebounds as the Wildcats (16).  For a team that had some troubles defensively against San Diego and Oral Roberts, they held the vaunted Wildcats attack to 63 points after 40 minutes.

10th place in the Pac-10?  Pundits better think again.  Stanford just took the 5th-ranked team in the country to the brink of defeat.   If Coach Dawkins can get this continued effort from his guys, Stanford can play with ANYBODY in the Pac-10.  Stanford will not face a group as athletic as Coach Calipari's Cronies the rest of the regular season.  They will definitely face much more experienced teams than Kentucky, but not a team with as much talent as the SEC Wildcats.

One last thought on the game:  John Wall is a great player and reminds me of a Bill Gates' Kyle Weaver.  The two look exactly alike and are very good athletes, except Wall is considerably better already.  However, I cannot co-sign his breakaway dunk as time expired in OT.  I will be the first to admit that I do not know what it is like to be a high-level athlete in that situation with the opportunity to put an exclamation point on the game, but he did nothing but run up the score.  It was showboating at its finest.

Stanford's next opponent- the Ken Bone-less and Jeremiah Dominguez-less 1-3 Portland State Vikings at Maples on Sunday night.  Tip-off is at 7.  Expect vengeance to be unleashed on the court, and a great post-game wrap-up by Ray Salloom on afterwards.

Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with (sign-up)!

The Bootleg Top Stories