Mid-way through the second half of UK's loss to Ole Miss Tuesday night, my wife (she knows nothing about basketball, but she knows bad defense when she sees it) turned to me and said, "Are they gonna guard anybody?" I looked at her and said, "Apparently not."
What we were witnessing was one of the strangest halves of basketball that I've seen in a while:
The First 10:21 of the Second Half
For the first 10:21 of the second half Kentucky refused to defend the perimeter, and barely made an effort at defending the paint. During that time UK allowed a team averaging 64.1 points per game (since Chris Warren went down against U of L), to score 23 points while going 5-8 (62.5%) from the 3-point line, and 8-15 overall (53.3%). This was a team struggling; three losses in a row, and dwindling support from the fan base. Their confidence had to be waning. Well if it was, UK gave the Reb's a shot of adrenaline, and paid the price.
Offensively, during the first 10:21 of the second half UK went only 5-15 (33.3%) from the field, making only 2 of 7 3-pointers (28.6%). Note to 'Cats -- If you don't defend you have to shoot a much better percentage, just ask Bruce Pearl.
In that 10:21 Kentucky's defense didn't make Ole Miss break a sweat to get open shots; Rebel players were left wide-open on the secondary break, without having the benefit of a single screen; and Ole Miss was allowed to drive the lane uncontested for layups. Rotation was either slow or non-existent during this time, and the energy level of the boys in blue came nowhere near matching the Rebels.
Many (including me) have used the word "tough" to describe this teams mind-set, but for a little over 10 minutes Tuesday night, the 'Cats were about as tough as my baby girl's disposition.
Even considering how self-defeating UK's boycotting of defense for the first part of the second half was, that's not what kept Kentucky from winning the game. No, there was more zaniness to follow:
The Final 9:39 of the Second Half
Over the final 9:39 of the game UK redefined the concept of shot distribution:
It all begins with DeAndre Liggins. Because Michael Porter couldn't guard anybody without fouling (three fouls in six minutes), Gillispie was left with no choice (or did he have a choice, hmmm - more on that later) but to let the mercurial freshman guard "attack" the 2-3 zone that Ole Miss had been playing so competently all day.
This decision led UK to taking 20 shots over the final 9:39 of the game, with Liggins taking seven of those shots (35%), and Patrick Patterson not taking any shots over the final 7:29 of the game (and only one shot in the final 9:39). Patterson did make four free throws during the time-frame; two of them came after being fouled on an offensive rebound put-back. Obviously, he wasn't being looked for on the offensive end of the court.
Conversely, Liggins' shot production over the final 9:39 looks like this: Missed jumper, missed jumper, missed layup, missed 3, missed jumper, missed 3, good layup.
Patrick Patterson didn't take a shot in the final 7:29 (I know I already wrote that, but I wanted to re-emphasize how distasteful that stat is to me). This is a guy who finished the game 8-12 from the field. That's 66.7%. The rest of the team shot 32.1%.
UK certainly had no problems getting Patterson the ball earlier in the game, and no, Ole Miss didn't change the defense they were playing in the final nine minutes. So why didn't the big fella get the ball in his big hands more often? I surely don't know, but the game-tape says that UK's lead guard wasn't patient; the game-tape says UK's lead guard wasn't looking to distribute; the game-tape says UK's lead guard was looking to be the leading scorer; and finally, the game-tape says UK's lead guard was playing like Ramel Bradley circa 2008, minus the requisite scoring skills.
The game-tape also says that Liggins is a freshman, and although he didn't play smartly, he did play hard; and on a day when I can count on one hand the number of players wearing blue who gave an acceptable effort, that is to be commended. It speaks volumes about UK's defensive effort when one sees that the 'Cats had two lonely steals on the day, with Liggins being responsible for both.
And let me add this; I think DeAndre Liggins can be a very good point guard at UK. He's not a great 3-point shooter, but he possesses all the other physical skills a coach looks for in a point. He simply needs more time to mature in his decision-making.
So why was DeAndre allowed to fail? Why didn't he get some help? Well, as I noted earlier, Porter committed three fouls in six minutes; he simply could not guard. He did make a three-pointer and handed out two assists, but was rendered helpless on the defensive end.
The most relevant question, at least in my opinion, is where was Kevin Galloway? More to the point; how bad must Galloway be practicing in order for him not to be given at least a chance to play Tuesday? No, I'm not questioning Gillispie's dearly held tenet - "Those who earn it, get it" - But that doesn't keep me from wondering what it is Galloway is doing wrong, and why it hasn't it been fixed? He's a JUCO with only two years of eligibility. And from what I've seen of him he plays a steady point, and more importantly he knows his limitations. He might not win a game for you, but he won't lose it either.
I'm not calling for Galloway to become the starter, but if he had been given the opportunity to play, there is no way (at least in my opinion) that he would have performed as poorly as Liggins did in the second half of Saturday's game.
Did UK take Ole Miss lightly? Kentucky must come to realize that teams don't tremble in panic at the sight of KENTUCKY. There is no fear factor attached to the name across their jerseys ... not anymore. Every night they must give maximum effort; opposing teams will not fold at the first bit of adversity. And Tuesday I didn't see maximum anything, except ineptness -- For Jodie Meeks to have only one rebound is unacceptable; for Patrick Patterson to have only two defensive rebounds is unacceptable; for DeAndre Liggins to take 16 shots is unacceptable; for UK to allow an opponent to score 21 points over their average is unacceptable.
This team hasn't played a game that poorly all year, so ...
Why now? Could be a self-satisfaction bug has hit the team; could be that they didn't respect their opponent; could be that being ranked 24th in the country gave them the mistaken impression that they are invincible; could be they were tired from eating all that gumbo ... I really don't know, but I do know that a pretty good South Carolina team is coming into Rupp this Saturday, so time to ponder is a luxury Gillispie does not have. Instead, three days to fix it is what he's left with.
The great thing about basketball in January is that there is always a next game; a quick opportunity to turn turn those frowns upside down.
I still like this team regardless of how poorly I think they played Tuesday. I expect the guys to play solidly Saturday, and put the poor performance in Oxford behind them.
That's another lesson young players would be wise to learn: Don't let Ole Miss beat ya twice (kind of like the golfer who hits a bad shot, and let's it adversely effect his next couple of shots). Ole Miss is an 'L' ... get over it, and beat South Carolina.
Hey, ESPN, Fox, CBS, Raycom, and any other entity that televises live college basketball games -- If you insist on sticking a microphone in a coaches face at halftime, you have to expect the occasional verbal flogging.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!