Let me clear about one thing: If you are a University of Kentucky fan, player or coach, then under no circumstance can a loss to the Duke Blue Devils ever be considered "good." But in the Wildcats' 75-68 loss against their hated rival on Tuesday evening in the Georgia Dome, there were a surprising number of positives to be gleaned and observed as the team moves forward toward defending its national title.
Rebounding and Hustle Returned
After Kentucky got manhandled on the boards by Maryland in the first game, many were worried (myself included) that it may be indicative of a symptomatic problem with this team.
The Wildcats responded by going up against the No. 3 team in the country with a renewed energy and aggressiveness when it came to chase down loose balls.
Alex Poythress Found His Optimal Role on the Team
While there has never been any doubt about Poythress' talent, it was a thing of beauty to see it on full display against the Blue Devils talented frontcourt. From his four monsterous dunks to the way he crashed the glass, it's clear that Poythress will be a huge inside/low block scorer for the Wildcats this season.
And as stupidly simple as that analysis sounds, keep in mind that Poythress' multi-faceted game at first seemed to put him at very strange disadvantage: He didn't seem to have a defined role on this team. Now he does...and it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.
The Young Players Kept It Together Without Their Floor Leader
Ryan Harrow still has a lot to learn, but there's not doubt that the Wildcats were hamstrung without their starting point guard and one of the team's few veteran players.
But they were still able to hang with Duke to a point that it looked like the Cats would take control of the game late in the second half.
There is still no doubt that the team's offense is most effective when Harrow is at the point and Archie Goodwin can focus on scoring rather than distributing the basketball. But it's also nice to know that Goodwin and Mays can run things if Harrow isn't available or Polson is over-matched.
Kentucky Got an Early Taste of Postseason Play
The atmosphere in the Georgia Dome made the second game of the season feel like the NCAA tournament..and the young team (once again without their point guard) stepped up to the challenge.
The Wildcats came up a bit short, but a game like this will only help when this team has to go on the road in the SEC and when March Madness rolls around.
The Wildcats have already experienced what it's like to play against the best in front of a huge (and not entirely friendly) crowd. They also know what it feels like to lose...and just like the Indiana game showed us from last year, that can be one of the greatest motivators if the teams ever meet again.
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