LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- There are two important things about the University of Kentucky's 90-83 overtime win over Missouri in front of a College GameDay crowd in Rupp Arena Saturday night.
1) The Wildcats played better. Alex Poythress had his best game of the season. Archie Goodwin came to life. Julius Mays was the down-the-stretch leader and shotmaker UK has needed all season. Those are the most important developments. The second most important?
2) The Wildcats didn't lose.
A loss in this game, in this setting, on this night, would've been nearly devastating. So avoiding that was big. Not big enough to punch any NCAA Tournament tickets or even to "build a resume," but a necessary step toward that goal.
Here's what I'm tired of: "building a resume."
A resume? What, are they applying for a job at the Gap? Are they trying to get to a job fair? Do they have an appointment with human resources? With LexingtonHelpWanted.com?
The Wildcats, and every other team, need to ignore resumes and focus on rebounds, for starters. UK did that in the second half against Missouri, which came into Saturday's game ranked No. 2 in the nation in rebound margin, and bullied the Wildcats to a 9-rebound advantage by halftime.
In the second half and overtime, UK outrebounded Missouri 23-12. That's important. Whether UK is "in" or "out" of some bracketologist's bracket on Feb. 24 is not important.
That's just something ESPN is selling because it needs a narrative on which to hang its coverage, a hook on which to make games more marketable than they otherwise would be.
For UK, there is no "resume." Life began, basically, the day Nerlens Noel went to the sidelines. The Wildcats are 2-1. And even that doesn't matter. What matters is what they do over the rest of the regular season and then in the conference tournament. And how the Wildcats are playing is more important than which teams they are beating.
Missouri? The Tigers are 1-7 on the road this season. They're so bad on the road that they can't beat the breakfast buffet line at the Embassy Suites, so bad on the road that they stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night -- and it didn't matter.
What matters isn't the competition, but how the Wildcats improve.
I guess my view is still freshly covered by the postseason I covered a year ago, a University of Louisville team that was left for dead every bit as much as this UK team is.
It had very little resume. But it aced the final exam. That's the priority for this UK team now. Saturday night, it passed another test.
UK is playing better basketball. Let me specify. UK is playing better on offense. It is finding a few scoring answers. Poythress got the ball on the wing and did something with it. It was as if UK coach John Calipari ordered wings with beast sauce. He backed defenders down. He went by them. He scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Goodwin opened the second half with five straight points and finished with 18. He made only a handful of bad plays (and committed seven turnovers). But he played with energy.
Willie Cauley-Stein's numbers don't pop off the stat page, but he was a constant hustling force. Perhaps two of the biggest plays of the game were his. With Missouri up 14 in the first half, he blocked a shot that gave UK some momentum.
And on UK's first possession of the second half, he made a hustling save that set up a Goodwin three-pointer that got the Wildcats started on a positive note.
As the rebounding numbers demonstrate, UK also played with more toughness. Missouri coach Frank Haith came out in his postgame news conference and mentioned UK's toughness and aggressiveness with the first words out of his mouth. That might've been the first time that's happened this season. So there's progress there, too.
Defensively, UK hasn't made a great deal of progress. Missouri scored 50 points in the paint and, except for a couple of defensive stands by UK, got there whenever it wanted. The Tigers shot 57.7 percent in the second half, and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. UK can't keep winning allowing those kinds of numbers. It still has work to do.
But building a resume isn't part of that work. It's too late, frankly, for this UK team to "build a resume." It's going to have to settle for becoming the best basketball team it can manage to be.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, this may be the one NCAA tournament in history where seed means less than it ever has. The difference between a No. 3 and a No. 12 isn't going to be much.
"We got better today," Calipari said. "We showed some things that now we can do. They're having confidence not because of how I'm coaching. . . Demonstrated performance brings their confidence out. . . . All we have to do is take care of our business. If we do that, okay."
As the teams left the court, somebody fired up "Don't Stop Believin'" on the Rupp Arena public address system. It's a different kind of postseason mindset from the past few seasons around here.
But even that doesn't matter. Calipari has introduced a mantra with his players. "Just keep playing." Through mistakes, turnovers, wins, losses, bracketology, pressure, media. "Just keep playing."
I guess my thought would be to tweak that just a bit.
"Just keep winning."
"I've done this a long time," Calipari said. "I've been through this before. . . . Let me get my team right. I'm trying to keep these guys in the moment."
Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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