Commentary

Cats get it done in must-win game

Updated: February 24, 2013, 1:47 AM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

Saturday's night game against Missouri was a must-win affair for Kentucky.

I know fans of Big Blue Nation, the most passionate ones in all of college basketball, did not necessarily agree with me. The bottom line was simple: The Wildcats needed a marquee win to add to their résumé. Going into the game, their best wins to date this season came against Maryland and Ole Miss.

If Kentucky had lost to Missouri, a major opportunity would have been lost.

The Wildcats played more aggressively than I had seen in prior games I'd called this season. The fans at Rupp brought the intensity and emotion out of this young squad.

I was impressed with Kentucky's success playing 5-on-5, with offensive sets working out. The balanced scoring stood out.

Down the stretch, Kentucky came up big on the foul line to put the game away in overtime.

Ryan Harrow looked like a different player. He was ready for the challenge against Phil Pressey & Co. Harrow came out and made some big shots early.

Alex Poythress was more aggressive on the baseline, attacking the basket.

In the second half, Archie Goodwin was a difference-maker. After being held scoreless in the first half, Goodwin came through with a number of big baskets.

John Calipari has a very young squad. They are still in an adjustment period following the season-ending injury to Nerlens Noel. Willie Cauley-Stein has embraced the challenge of being more of a factor in the middle. He also made a key hustle play, diving for a loose ball at a pivotal time. 

This Kentucky team is a lot different than last year's national champion. The 2012-13 squad lacks the experience that the title winner enjoyed. Calipari does not have a Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb or Darius Miller to help with the youngsters. Those experienced players made a difference in the locker room and on the court during times of adversity.

While this was a great win for the résumé, the VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index) tells me there is still a lot of basketball to be played. This victory does not lock up a bid to the Big Dance. I feel that key road games ahead against Arkansas and Georgia will be crucial. There is also an opportunity to get a huge W at home against Florida. Kentucky cannot afford to stumble in its next game against a Mississippi State team that was blown out at home by Vanderbilt over the weekend.

For now, Big Blue Nation can celebrate a huge victory. 

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.