Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Downey downs Kentucky
By Dana O'Neil
Darrin Horn was downright giddy when Devan Downey said he was withdrawing from the NBA draft this summer.
And that was before the South Carolina coach lost Dominique Archie to a knee injury and Mike Holmes to a broken bone near his eye in November. Holmes was booted from the team just this month for repeated violation of team rules.
Imagine how Horn felt on Tuesday night. The 5-9 Downey, the ultimate David in a big man's sport, took down Goliath practically all by himself. With John Calipari throwing everything and everyone at Downey, the SEC's leading scorer still scored 30 points as South Carolina stunned No. 1 Kentucky, 68-62.
And I'll admit it: South Carolina stunned me, too. I didn't think Kentucky would get through this season unscathed. It's just too hard. But after assuming the ring-grabbing demeanor of their coach and unabashedly aiming for that No. 1 ranking, I didn't see the Wildcats surrendering it so quickly. The Cats' hot-potato treatment of the top spot matched Texas' cootie reaction to No. 1, ranked at the top in the afternoon only to lose the same evening.
But I especially didn't see Kentucky losing to a team like South Carolina, a preseason NCAA tourney team that instead rode a three-game losing streak into the meeting with UK and has struggled to regain its footing since losing Archie and Holmes.
But Downey, who so long has been criticized for what he's not (namely tall), showed speed and moves to rival that of John Wall and a poise that the Kentucky rookie simply didn't have on Tuesday night. Downey took a lot of shots -- 29 in all -- but he has to. And Calipari and the Wildcats knew Downey had to and still couldn't stop him.
Of course this is as much about Kentucky as it is South Carolina. The Wildcats, who had survived by a whisper five times this season, did not play well from the opening tip. They were disjointed and sloppy. Wall finished with 19, but as the game got close and you kept expecting him to take over, it never happened.
Perhaps more telling, this team of overachieving freshmen were left on an island by their upperclassmen and drowned. The Kentucky newcomers, which includes JUCO transfer Darnell Dodson, scored 57 of Kentucky's 62 points. Patrick Patterson represented the older generation with the other five.
The guys with experience, the ones presumably more equipped to handle hostile gyms and the newly minted No. 1 ranking, were absentee parents, leaving the kids to figure out everything on their own.
It's been the one question dogging these uber-talented players since the year started: are they savvy enough to handle what comes at them in wave after wave after wave? For 19 games they were, so it's a little foolish to say they'll unravel altogether now.
But things aren't exactly going to get easier for the Wildcats from here. Vanderbilt comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday, followed by Ole Miss, with Tennessee and Mississippi State still looming down the road.
With a small chink in their armor exposed, how Kentucky responds will be monitored closely.