What Kentucky's win over Cincinnati showed future NCAA tourney foes
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Cincinnati was prepared for its Buster Douglas Moment. The Bearcats came to the gym with a thorough scouting report on mighty Kentucky, a clever gameplan and a no-fear mindset.
"Every guy that walked into that locker room expected to beat Kentucky," associate head coach Larry Davis said. "And that's not just woofin', that's the truth."
The truth was on the scoreboard for 17 feisty minutes. Battling the undefeated Wildcats for every point and every possession, Cincinnati led 24-23. There was hope in the hearts of the tiny portion of Bearcats fans in the Yum Center.
And then Willie Cauley-Stein took flight, and descended upon Quadri Moore like an eagle on a field mouse.
Per the official play-by-play, it was a most unfortunate nine-second sequence for Moore. The freshman from Linden, N.J., a 29-percent 3-point shooter, launched an unwise 3 that was about as close to landing in the Ohio River as it was to landing in the net. And that ignited Kentucky's fearsome fast break.
Devin Booker grabbed the rebound and advanced the ball before passing it to point guard Tyler Ulis on the wing. Ulis then saw the trailing Cauley-Stein heading to the basket at a high rate of speed. Ulis hit the lithe 7-footer in stride, and Quadri Moore was about to become famous for all the wrong reasons.
Give the kid credit for hustling back and getting in the path of a certain slam, however futile it might have been. Moore arose, but Cauley-Stein rose a foot higher. Having the competitive gumption to step in and challenge Cauley-Stein as he was flying in for a massive dunk assured Moore's virtual destruction and eternal posterization.
Cauley-Stein crushed the ball with two hands, drew the foul, blew off the roof, made the free throw ... and the game was irreversibly changed at that point. UK (36-0) never trailed again, pushed the lead to seven at the half and steadily pulled away for a 64-51 victory.
The colorful Kentucky junior was asked where that mauling of Moore ranked in his lengthening series of emasculating dunks.
"It might be worse than ol' dude from Florida (Devin Robinson, who was put on a poster in Gainesville on Feb. 7)," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't think they put the kid back in the game. It was nasty."
Indeed, Quadri Moore was ushered to the sideline immediately after that traumatic event and did not play again. Hopefully he's recovered by Cincinnati's season opener next November. Counselors are standing by.
The larger point of Cauley-Stein's and-one is this: Kentucky's opponents can arm themselves with the best gameplan in America, but the physical reality of the Wildcats may well render it moot.
There are four potential opponents still out there for UK. No matter who they turn out to be, they're smaller, thinner and likely less athletic. That's a lot to overcome.
Cincinnati was not the team to scale Big Blue Everest. The Bearcats had the will but not the skill, shooting just 31.7 percent from the floor and 14.3 percent from the 3-point line. The inability to make shots negated a blacksmith-like, hammer-and-tong strategy of making the game a brawl in the paint.
"I don't think they handled our physicality very well throughout the game," Bearcats forward Jermaine Sanders said. "Mental lapses that happened on the offensive end was why we lost the game. It wasn't nothing they did."
That was a recurring – if rather delusional – theme in the Bearcats locker room.
"Kentucky's beatable," said center Coreontae DeBerry. "We just let it slip away. We're the Bearcats; we don't bow down to no one."
The Bearcats may be unbowed, but they're also eliminated. The plan to turn the game into an alley fight was met by a Kentucky team willing to rumble.
"When they came in and their sole purpose is to rough you up, you can't settle for jumpers," Cauley-Stein said. "You have to go at them."
And when you go at them?
"It demoralizes them," he said. "They're like, 'We're trying to rough them up and it's not working.' "
In point of fact, Kentucky is perfectly comfortable playing that sort of game. Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns clears space with shoulders and elbows when he catches the ball in the low post, and seems to relish it – at least he relishes it more than the defender trying to hold his ground against the body blows.
"He charges," Cincinnati post player Octavius Ellis said with a smile. "But the refs don't call it."
Here's what the refs did call in the first half: fouls on Cincinnati. Plenty of them. The Wildcats shot 10 free throws in the first 20 minutes to the Bearcats' none.
"The difference in the game is they shot 28 free throws and we shot 14," Davis said.
Get in line, Larry. For the season Kentucky has made 18 more free throws than its opponents have attempted. That could be attributed to a few things: UK is a good foul-shooting team; the last refuge for a defender against overwhelming size is to hack; and the 'Cats excel at using their big bodies without being called for it.
So future NCAA tourney opponents can probably cross "Turn The Game Into A Toughman Contest" off the list of strategies. If No. 5 seed West Virginia is the Sweet 16 opponent, the Mountaineers may finish the game with four players and the mascot on the floor – no team in America fouls more. If No. 4 Maryland is the opponent, it will be a daunting challenge for a skinny front line.
Whoever is next in Kentucky's path will have about 30 hours less rest than the Wildcats to go along with the inherent physical disadvantage. The schedule and size are on UK's side heading to Cleveland.
In other words, the Willie Cauley-Stein crush dunks on the heads of opponents aren't likely to stop anytime soon.