Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Richards, Pronger and Cats Beat Dogs

First, there were reports that Richards would center Jarome Iginla and Jonathan Toews. Then, he was supposedly a healthy scratch, which is just ludicrous when you consider he's one of the best two-way centers in the world. But when it was all said and done, Richards was in the lineup for Canada's first game against Norway, centering Toews and Patrice Bergeron for most of the game. Oh, and he scored a goal in the 7-0 victory.

Let's face the facts … Canada has a loaded squad. Absolutely loaded. So just being on the roster is an honor, even if you become a healthy scratch. But under no circumstance should Richards even remotely be considered as a healthy scratch. Not with everything he brings to the table: scoring, defense, hitting, backchecking, power play scoring, penalty killing. Certainly there are more skilled scorers up and down the lineup: Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Eric Staal. But Richards is, without question, a more complete player than Nash and Heatley, and he's flat out better than Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Corey Perry and Patrice Bergeron when you take in all-around game, and maybe better than Toews as well.

Healthy scratching him would just be dumb. It really would. In fact, he may be the single best penalty killer as far as forwards go on the entire roster. So no way he should be anywhere near the healthy scratch list.

Fellow Flyers Chris Pronger, as the second oldest player on the team (behind Scott Niedermayer), also took the ice and saw considerable time, notching an assist on a rocket shot from the point that Heatley deflected in. All in all, a very nice showing by the Flyers in Canada's first game, though to be fair, it was a nice showing by the entire Canadian team. They did win 7-0 after all. Wake me up when they take on a real opponent.

Speaking of real opponents, No. 2 Kentucky certainly faced one in the form of Mississippi State last night. Even without their leading scorer Ravern Johnson, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, even with their best big man and best NBA prospect/shot-blocking machine Jarvis Varnado saddled with foul trouble all night long, and even with shooting just 38.6 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three, the Bulldogs gave the Wildcats everything they could handle, sticking with them from start to finish to force overtime, ultimately losing 81-75.

Mississippi St. got 16 points from Barry Stewart and 17 points from Kodi Augustus, but it was point guard Dee Bost that really gave the Bulldogs the chance at the upset. A player that John Wall had faced in their high school days, the freshman phenom knew he was in for a tough night against the speedy Bost. Wall said he knew Bost was really fast and really good. He proved to be right, as Bost almost singlehandedly willed Miss. St. to the win, scoring 22 points, nabbing 5 boards, and swiping two steals. But he went just 2-10 from the three-point line, which proved costly.

If you don't take advantage of every opportunity against this young, talented Kentucky squad, you're in trouble. And the Bulldogs simply didn't capitalize enough. They missed five free throws, but more importantly, they missed 25 threes last night, finishing just 10-35. And they missed several open shots. Though Kentucky hardly made it easy.

Defensively, the Cats were all over the place, evidenced by their 12 blocks and 5 steals. They made Mississippi State work for every point it got, knowing full well the Bulldogs were without their leading scorer. And in the end, it was the three-headed monster that made the difference.

DeMarcus Cousins continued to roll along as the best big man in America, abusing Varnado to the point of getting him in foul trouble, finishing with 19 points and 14 rebounds, especially taking over on the glass in the final minutes of regulation and the duration of overtime.

Patrick Patterson, the elder statesman of the starters, joined the party with a double-double himself, scoring 19 points, grabbing 10 boards, blocking three shots, adding a steal, going 4-4 from the line and finishing with a nearly identical shooting performance as Cousins, going 7-12 from the field, compared to Cousins' 7-11. And John Wall made it three double-doubles for the Kentucky, scoring 19 points himself to go along with 10 rebounds, finishing just two assists short of a triple-double.

Oh, and when Kentucky really needed him, Wall made all the big plays, even though his shot wasn't falling. Going just 6-16 from the field and failing to knock down his jumper, Wall instead hit clutch free throws, found teammates with beautiful passes and came up with two huge blocks that helped swing momentum and the game. Even when he struggles, he makes a difference.

It's just not fair that two freshman, Wall and Cousins, could arguably be the best two players in the country, or at least the best player in the nation at their respective position. It's a young squad and a beatable squad, but it's also one of the most talented. The Wildcats are scary good.

And the Sixers are scary bad. They lost to the Heat 105-78. They shot just 37.9 percent from the field, 8.3 percent from three (1-12) and 64.7 percent from the line. Conversely, Miami shot 51.2 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three and 80 percent from the line. Essentially, the Sixers played no defense and no offense. Awesome. And Andre Iguodala really inspired fans to put those trade rumors to rest with 11 points on 5-12 shooting, 0-4 from three and getting to the line for just two free throw attempts. These guys suck.

BallHype: hype it up!

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