Friar Basketball

Too Many Answers from Kentucky

Willie

Try as they might, a short-handed Providence team couldn’t come up with their own Illinois moment Sunday night at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

It was against an Illinois team that featured four future NBA draftees (headlined by Deron Williams) that the 2003-04 Friars showed the country what those in Providence already knew: the Friars were capable of beating anyone. On that early December night in Madison Square Garden, Providence fell behind 12-0 early, but stormed back and dominated the Illini, with Ryan Gomes scoring 24 points and snatching 12 rebounds and Marcus Douthit (6 blocks) anchoring a zone defense that held the nationally ranked foe to just 30% shooting in the second half.

That it happened in New York somehow seemed to further justify the belief that that team was for real.

The win seemingly propelled PC. Those Friars went on to defeat would-be national champion Connecticut, defending national champion Syracuse, and eventually rose to #12 in the national rankings.

The same quiet confidence that many felt then was growing in certain corners of Friartown this year, with the hope being that this group would make a statement of their own 10 years later — only this time against the highest profile team in the country.

In the end, there was a bit too much of everything for Providence to overcome against Kentucky on Sunday night.

There was too much talent. Even on a night in which surefire top 3 pick Julius Randle was limited to 12 points, Kentucky got big offensive nights from James Young (5-7 from the field, 3-4 from 3, 5-6 at the free throw line), Aaron Harrison (7-9 shooting) Andrew Harrison (8-8 at the free throw line), and especially Willie Cauley-Stein (15 points, 7-8 shooting, 8 rebounds, 9 blocks).

Cauley-Stein was too much. In that Illinois game a decade ago it was Douthit who turned everything away, but on this night it was PC’s opponent who sent shot after shot away, frustrating the Friars. PC made 19 field goals on the night — only nine came from inside the three point arc.

Providence did come from behind in this one, erasing a 20-10 deficit and eventually tying it at 35 with roughly two minutes left in the first half, but Kentucky had too many answers each time the Friars pulled closer.

Their biggest response came early in the second half. After Josh Fortune missed a three pointer that would have tied it (PC was outstanding from deep, 10-19) at 41 two minutes into the second, Kentucky ripped off a 15-7 run to push their lead to 11. It was over from there.

Kentucky twice held PC to just a field goal over a five minute span in the second half, as the Friars eventually fell 79-65.

Bryce Cotton was once again terrific for Providence (23 points, 5-9 from deep), but Kentucky’s length neutralized PC’s front court, with the starters going just 8-31 from the field.

That Providence lost to a team loaded with as many as as eight potential first rounders wasn’t a surprise, but still, the loss was a deflating one for PC.

Deflating because the team that so many in Providence were quietly confident about may never take the floor together.

Kris Dunn sat for the second game in a row (his fifth DNP in nine games) and afterwards Ed Cooley said, “Dunn is really hurt. I don’t expect him back anytime soon at all. That is the biggest blow.”

Without Dunn, or any depth at point guard, Cooley is forced to slide a shallow backcourt into different roles — and monster minutes.

PC fans still haven’t seen freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock this season, and it’s now fair to ask if either will suit up for PC at all this year.

So much of the buzz that Cooley has built here has been off of his tremendous recruiting classes, yet the depth and talent has not come to fruition. Over the past two seasons, PC has seen three of their five recruits never take the floor (Austin, Bullock, and Ricky Ledo who was never eligible), while a fourth has, unfortunately, been struck with two crippling injuries that could force him to miss a majority of his first two seasons in Providence. Even while injured, Dunn was the best player on the floor in wins over Vermont and Vanderbilt.

Cooley has to be frustrated. The depth he and his staff worked so hard to build wasn’t available in their most high profile game of the year, and he will continue to try to find answers as the schedule softens over the next three weeks (just three games are left in the first semester).

The loss to Kentucky stings, but the continued questions of what might have been is what really hurts.

 

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