In 31 seconds, Archie Goodwin broke two curses.
A curse that has haunted the Cats’ second-half starts all season. A curse that kept Goodwin from landing a 3-point shot in more than 10 games.
“It’s pretty hard to beat that second half I played,” Goodwin said after Kentucky’s signature 90-83 overtime win over Missouri. “I played a big second half.”
In the first 16 seconds after halftime, Goodwin destroyed the trend of lackluster second-half starts and nailed a 3 to get UK within one point of Missouri. Fifteen seconds later, he stole the ball from Phil Pressey and turned it into an intense, energetic dunk.
Just like that, Kentucky not only had a lead, the Cats had some early second-half energy that they’ve been in search of all season.
“Archie picked up the energy,” Alex Poythress said. “It was great for us to start us off in the second half and get us going.”
And the rest of the team responded in kind, keeping themselves in the lead for the majority of the second half after trailing for the entirety of the first.
“I love how Archie got us going in the second half,” John Calipari said.
Goodwin failed to show up in the first half, posting a goose egg in the points department to go along with three turnovers. His energy shifted within moments of the second-half start.
“It just was me just being aggressive,” Goodwin said. “I came out of the first half and didn’t have a good half at all. In the second half, that 3 just gave me a lot more confidence in myself, so I was able to turn it around, and I just added something special to it.”
Goodwin ended the game with 18 points – all after halftime – his most since his driven 24-point show against Ole Miss that served as a turning point for the team earlier in the season.
His 3-pointer snapped an 0-for-16 streak, which dated all the way back to the UK’s first game against Texas A&M. When he added another trey a few minutes later, it marked his first game with multiple 3-pointers since the Louisville game in late December.
“It felt real good, like I released a monkey off my back,” said Goodwin.
While Goodwin is averaging 13.9 points per game, his performances throughout the season have been peppered with out-of-control drives and turnovers. Goodwin still had seven turnovers Saturday, but he was under control more often than not.
Calipari said he knows his freshman guard is going to make two “oh-my-gosh plays” a game, but the key is limiting it to no more.
“If it’s four or five, we got problems,” Coach Cal said.
There were few problems with Goodwin’s play on Saturday.
“It was a lot of fun,” Goodwin said. “This is probably the most fun we’ve had all year, because we know we beat a really good team and we played together and worked hard. When you do those things, and the balls going in for you, you can’t do nothing else but have fun.”
No one does big games like the Big Blue Nation
Rupp Arena has earned a reputation over the years as the best big-game atmosphere in the country. With Missouri in town Saturday, the Big Blue Nation did not disappoint.
“This was as good a crowd and as impactful a crowd as I’ve ever coached in a building,” Calipari said.
With ESPN College GameDay in town, 24,380 Kentucky fans turned the volume in Rupp Arena up a few decibels, and the Cats fed off it in their marquee win over Missouri.
“Our fans were amazing tonight,” graduate student Julius Mays said. “They played a big part in this win. I give a lot of credit to them. They were up all night. Even at the GameDay, they were amazing. The energy never stopped. Even when we got down, I felt like they kept us in it by cheering.”
Mays’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer late in the second half provided perhaps the loudest ovation of the game. When Mays drilled the trey just before the shot clock went off to give the Cats a five-point lead, Rupp Arena was downright deafening.
“There’s not a better crowd than the one we had tonight,” Goodwin said. “I don’t know if that’s just because of GameDay, but if we get a crowd like that every night, it’s going to be hard to beat us.”
Calipari and the Cats hope the Big Blue Nation matches the electricity it produced in the building Saturday night. As Coach Cal has said over the last week, with Nerlens Noel out for the season, UK needs the fans now more than ever.
“This team needs that,” Calipari said. “Like the next game, they need to come back and do that again. Then that last game, they need to do exactly the same thing. We need that extra that pushes us through.”
Cal still not ready to talk Big Dance
Even if you have penciled UK in the NCAA Tournament after Saturday’s victory over Missouri, don’t ask Calipari about your bracket. He’s not getting caught up in any bubble talk.
“The next game on our schedule is the biggest game on our schedule,” Calipari said. “Everybody wants to talk the NCAA Tournament. I’m going to tell you what I said (earlier). It’s a bell curve, folks. They’re going to take 68 teams. They’re not going to say, ‘This year we’re taking 46.’ ”
Obviously, Calipari isn’t ignoring the Big Dance, but his focus is still, even in February, on getting his team ready for the next game.
“All we got to do is take care of our business,” Coach Cal said. “If we do that, OK. If everybody loses, they lose, everybody loses, they’re taking a couple of us. You can have an ‘F’ and get in. It’s a bell curve.”
Kentucky got an “A” for its effort, energy and win Saturday night, but that doesn’t mean the players are going to change their approach. The urgency is still there, as Calipari’s next-game focus has rubbed off on the Cats.
“We’re not thinking about the NCAA Tournament,” Mays said. “If we do what we need to do, we’ll be rewarded in the end. All we’re thinking about is the next game.”
Calipari has always said that it doesn’t matter how good you are in November and December; he’s always been more concerned with getting his team into the discussion come March. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that UK saved its best win of the season for late February.
“How good can we be before this season ends?” Calipari said. “Let me say this. Our point guard was out early. Willie (Cauley-Stein) was out two weeks. We got our big guy going. We’re trying to get back to how we have to play. I’m proud of these guys.”