- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A buzz went through the FedEx Field press box Saturday afternoon before Washington’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

There was an incredulous “What?” A few seats down, there came a quizzical “Are you serious?” From the back row, a hesitant “In men’s basketball?”

It was halftime of the Kentucky-UCLA game in Chicago and the score was 41-7.
That looks as unbelievable in print as it sounds when spoken.

John Calipari’s Wildcats treated Steve Alford’s Bruins like a ragtag collection of intramural rejects, not Division I’s 18th-best team in scoring. UCLA fell behind 24-0 at the outset as it shot 0-for-17 from the field. Nearly eight minutes elapsed before the Bruins got on the board.

UCLA lost the second half, too, 42-37, resulting in a worse-than-it-sounds final score of 83-44.

But it was the bulge at intermission that everyone talked about — except Calipari, who insisted he was unaware.

“I didn’t look at the score in the first half,” he told reporters in a postgame news conference. “I did not know what the score was. I knew it was pretty good.”

Kentucky has been pretty good all year, but it’s aiming for historically great.

No. 10 Kansas is pretty good. The Jayhawks lost to Kentucky by 32 points. No. 9 Texas finished within 12 points, the closest Kentucky has come to a real scare (not counting a 10-point victory against Columbia) while compiling a 12-0 record.

The Wildcats are a unanimous No.1 in The Associated Press poll but failed to capture two of 31 first-place votes in the USA Today coaches poll (proving just how much some folks despise Calipari).

We don’t know Alford’s personal opinion of the man, but here’s what he said about the man’s squad.

“If they continue to play at that level defensively, I’m a firm believer they got a chance to run this thing out,” he told reporters. “They’re that good. In my 24 years of coaching, this is the best team I’ve coached against. There’s not a weakness on the team.”

One of seven unbeatens in the Top 25, Kentucky has a legitimate shot at ending that way. There hasn’t been an undefeated season since Bob Knight led Indiana to a 32-0 record in 1975-76. But those Hoosiers weren’t as long, athletic, deep and versatile as these Wildcats.

“When you talk about a dream team — other than [5-foot-9 Kentucky point guard Tyler] Ulis — they can basically switch five ways,” said Alford, who played for Knight in the 1980s. “And coach Knight, I think that was always his dream, that he could get five guys 6-7, 6-8 and just switch everything.
“That’s hard to score on. … You don’t see that kind of size and I think that affects you, and that’s hard to prepare for.”

The Wildcats arguably are their own best competition, facing some of their stiffest tests when pitted against each other between games. That was especially true before forward Alex Polythress tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice two weeks ago. The coach was using five-man platoons prior to Polythress’ injury, alternating the units every four or five minutes.

Calipari gets his recruits to accept reduced time and fewer statistics, a feat as impressive as landing multiple blue-chippers in the first place. Kentucky is the de facto 31st NBA team, positioned far better than a D-League outfit. Players know Calipari will help them reach the Association if they buy into his belief that everyone prospers when the team prospers.

Whether that includes a perfect season or a record number of players in the draft, he’ll take it. He relishes the process of new players growing and bonding into a cohesive unit.

History is to be considered only at the end.

“I’m staying in the moment,” Calipari told Fox Sports. “The one thing I’m doing is, I’m really enjoying these guys. We can all talk about defense and blocking shots and playing hard. But you got 10 guys, 11 guys sharing minutes. You got two point guards, two of the best point guards in the country, both of them, and they’re sharing minutes.

“You got big guys, Karl Towns and Dakari Johnson, sharing minutes. You have Willie [Cauley-Stein], one of the best big guys in the country, sharing minutes with Marcus Lee. You have Aaron Harrison, who’s really good, and then you got Devin [Booker] sharing minutes. That’s the story.”

It will be the sport’s most-intriguing until the Wildcats lose or cut down nets in Indianapolis with an unblemished record. No. 4 Louisville gets the next crack to play spoiler when it hosts its fierce rival on Saturday.

That halftime score is unlikely to be 41-7.

But Kentucky is bound to keep us talking anyway.

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