Commonwealth Journal

November 26, 2010

Somerset, KY - Commonwealth Journal

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B2 Commonwealth Journal Friday, November 26, 2010 Somerset, Kentucky Page Designed and Edited by Steve Cornelius; Sports Walker leads UConn over Kentucky for Maui title BY JOHN MARSHALL AP Basketball Writer LAHAINA, Hawaii — Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said before the Maui Invitational he had no idea how good his team would be, joking that he was still trying to figure out his players' names. The grizzled coach has always been known as a sandbagger, though, and that one turned out to be a whopper. Kemba Walker scored 29 points to complete a dazzling tournament and unranked Connecticut placed itself firmly back among the nation's elite programs, knocking off No. 8 Kentucky with an 84-67 rout Wednesday night to win the Maui Invitational. Connecticut (5-0) opened with a solid win over a good Wichita State team, then wore down No. 2 Michigan State in the semifinals. The Huskies closed out their second Maui title — they beat Gonzaga in 2005 — by overwhelming Kentucky in the championship game. Alex Oriakhi had 18 points and 11 SEASON Continued from PAGE B1 juggernaut. The transformation from a 5-6 team that couldn’t play a stitch of defense, into a hard-nosed team that has won 27 of 28 games has been a remarkable one. The Briar Jumpers went into last week’s game against Breathitt County as maybe the most dominant team in school history, if you go strictly by the numbers. The 2010 Somerset squad led the entire state of Kentucky in scoring and victory margin through the first 12 games. But last week’s close call in the mountains has knocked Somerset from that perch. As far as statistics go, they are now tied for second with Mayfield behind Bell County in average margin of victory. And last week’s 29 points leaves them with 666 points, one shy of Hazard’s 667. (Thank God, they’ve got another game to get off that creepy number.) But those statistics mean diddly squat as far as measuring this team’s ability to win the State Championship. Every doubter out there has been waiting to see what would happen when Somerset got into the deep water against stiff competition, after beating down the teams they had been required to face. Anybody with at least one eye could see, once they cleared the tough part of their schedule early on, that Somerset would be 12-0 and going to Breathitt County. Then it would get interesting. Count me among those who expected the Jumpers to prevail, but wondered how they would react when they faced adversity on the road in the playoffs. It was not a matter of doubting the ability or the fortitude of the team or the players, but a realistic assessment based on experience. In my time as a football player and fan, I have learned that a dominant team doesn’t always react well when they are suddenly hit in the mouth and dazed. Add to that the realization that, if you don’t recover quickly from that punch in the mouth, your wonderful season can be over before you realize what has happened. That combination can easily lead to a sense of panic. Well, last week they went to Breathitt County and came within a hair of seeing it all end there in Jackson. They were facing a good team on the road in the playoffs, and they were a long way from home. They turned the ball over six times, had lots of bad penalties, and couldn’t stop the run. It was easily their worst performance of the season, and was reminiscent of the Paducah-Tilghman loss last season, with one exception….Somerset won. That’s right, they won. So what does that tell us? Did they get lucky? No. You don’t fight that hard and overcome that much adversity through luck. Are they not as good as their numbers say they are? Actually, they could have beaten most of their opponents a lot worse that they did. Those opponents just weren’t the same caliber as what they have to face now. And if Somerset had taken care of the football they would have won comfortably, despite the fact that Breathitt played their best game of the season and showed signs that they might have a state championship in their near future. To me, what the game at Breathitt County shows is that Somerset, despite the way they looked at times this season, is not a machine. They are a team of highly-skilled young kids, playing a game. They have flaws at times—not often, but they do appear. But mostly, it showed me that these kids have an iron will, a unity of purpose, and a desire to be the best. There is absolutely no way they should have won that football game, considering the adverse conditions that were stacked against them. But they did. Now, they have to travel even farther from home to face a team that is probably even better than Breathitt. A lot of people have become doubters of the purple and gold after one sub-par performance. But I say that last week shows why Somerset will win this week. They have guts to go with that talent. In fact, I will risk every bit of football reputation I might have to say this: Somerset will win Friday night and return to Bowling Green to avenge their loss from last season. Why do I say this? Because they have worked too hard to let it slip away. Because it means too much to them. Because they are too well coached. Because they are too experienced. Because they have too much intestinal fortitude. Because they have too much senior leadership. Because they have too much character. DIRECTIONS TO BELFRY Take Hwy. 80 east to London (30 miles), take the Hal Rogers Parkway to Hazard (60 miles), continue on 80 until the Parkway ends (42 miles), take a right on US 23 to Pikeville (20 miles) and then turn left on US 119 to Belfry (21 miles). rebounds, and the Huskies shot 57 percent against one of the nation's best teams to leave Hawaii with a much clearer picture of who they are. Coming off a disappointing 2009-10 season, UConn is clearly back. Kentucky (4-1), despite all those young stars-in-waiting, didn't have an answer when UConn started pouring it on during its big first-half run. Instead of making a comeback in the second half, the Wildcats fell father behind, their inexperience overcoming their talent for once. Freshman phenom Terrence Jones got off to a great start, spent a good chunk of the first half on the bench with two fouls and finished with 24 points. Darius Miller added 15 points. The rest of the starters? They went a combined 6 for 26 and the team shot 36 percent. "That was a shellacking," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We were outplayed, outcoached, everythinged."  See CATS, Page B7 out- AP Photo/Eugene Tanner Connecticut center Charles Okwandu (35) attempts to cut off Kentucky forward Terrence Jones (3) on a drive to the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010.

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