Brush with greatness
Flames doused in Kentucky
By Mike Pankow
November 28, 2017
The Flames, as coach Steve McClain said, knew what they walking into, but they couldn’t stop the athletic, high-flying Wildcats, falling 107-73 at Rupp Arena on Sunday evening in Lexington, Ky.
Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo each established career highs in their young Kentucky careers, netting 25 and 19 points, respectively, to lead six players in double figures for the Wildcats (6-1), who shot a scorching 66.7 percent.
“I’m sorry we didn’t give them more of a look today,” McClain said. “I give Kentucky a lot of credit. They ran their sets really well. From watching them on film to seeing them in person, I thought they were really crisp in what they were doing.”
And the Flames (2-3), for lack of a better term, were basically burned to a crisp. UIC committed a season-high 21 turnovers to offset a decent 40.6 shooting percentage.
“I’ve got four sophomores out there and I’ve got an entire team that has never walked into this kind of environment,” McClain said. “It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve walked into these environments, they haven’t and it showed. That’s why you play games like this. If you don’t take anything out of this, then you shouldn’t go through these experiences. I like my team, yet I know I’m still dealing with a very young group of guys.”
The Flames had five players in double figures, including sophomore guard Godwin Boahen, who scored 17 points on 6-for-9 from the field. Senior center Tai Odiase finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks and didn’t back down against Kentucky’s vaunted athletes.
Sophomore forward Dikembe Dixson rebounded from a slow start to finish with 14 points. He scored 12 of his points in the second half after becoming more assertive.
“He finally settled down,” McClain said. “I thought early he was anxious. He wasn’t sure of himself. In the second half, he started driving the ball and getting to the free-throw line. For all of the negative you take out of a game, you’ve to find the positives.”
One of the positives was a balanced score sheet as Dominique Matthews and Clint Robinson also added support, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively.
The Flames appeared like they were going to stick around for a while, leading 3-2 after a Matthews 3-pointer and trailing just 10-7 after an Odiase jumper, but Knox scored a layup to ignite a 12-1 run and Kentucky never led by fewer than single digits the rest of the night.
Knox scored 10 of Kentucky’s final 15 points of the first half as the Wildcats opened up a comfortable 52-35 lead at intermission.
At the start of the second half, McClain shook up his lineup putting Boahen, Robinson and freshman Michael Diggins on the court with Dixson and Odiase.
The Flames outscored Kentucky 13-12 in the first five minutes of the second half, but the Wildcats made the Flames’ zone look futile as they began to stretch the lead even more.
“I thought when we put Tai and Clint out there together was when we got some momentum going,” McClain said. “I thought we could rebound the basketball with them. I thought we had a lot of good things in the second half. We got some good offense going. Some things we can build on.”
Despite the lopsided final score, Kentucky coach John Calipari liked what he saw in the Flames.
I've known Steve and respected him for a long time,” Calipari said. “The hardest thing for young guys, which I can see he's going through, it starts with defense. … But he’s got a good team. That’s a good team. Good drivers. … They got good players and they will get it together. Steve’s done it before.”
McClain hopes his still emerging young team of Flames will learn from the experience in Lexington.
“I like my team, but I don’t like the result today,” McClain said. “I knew what we were walking into. This is reality. How hard will you work to change that, so when you get this opportunity again that you’ll be better for it.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: Dixson banged knees with a Kentucky player in the final minutes of the game. He hobbled off the court and didn’t return as the game was out of hand. A UIC spokesman said he was fine. … Starting point guard Tarkus Ferguson was scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting with two assists in just 12 minutes. He didn’t play in the second half as he was seen limping in the handshake line after the game. His inactivity after halftime was termed “a coach’s decision.” … The game was a bit of a dunkfest as Kentucky threw down eight dunks while UIC had four, including three by Odiase. … Dixson spent two years playing in Kentucky high schools as his family kept moving while he was prepping. … This was the first time the Flames played a ranked opponent since a 57-54 win over No. 12 Illinois at the United Center on Dec. 18, 2010.
POSTGAME VIDEO (courtesy UIC Flames on YouTube):