It has taken me this long to begin writing this article because I was near apoplexy after the game. Instead of running to the keyboard and pounding out an article I would have to explain or even try to take back is something I have done maybe once at A Sea of Blue, and I don't care to go back there.
First off: Congratulations to the South Carolina Gamecocks. What a terrific effort they put forth, and they were rewarded with a hard-earned and well-deserved victory in Rupp Arena. Both teams played pretty much even the whole game, but the Gamecocks just got it done down the stretch, refused to allow UK to extend their narrow lead, and gave themselves a chance to win. Then, they executed to perfection and won the day.
Noble victory, Gamecocks. Congratulations on your excellent, inspired and ultimately successful effort. You earned every inch of it, and in a manner that is most praiseworthy.
But I'll leave it to Garnet and Black Attack to tell you about South Carolina. I want to talk now about the Wildcats:
First off, I want to explain that my initial reaction was to rip Coach Gillispie. Instead, I am going to apply the obverse of Jerry McGuire's mission statement, "The Things We Think But Do Not Say," and keep my own counsel for now rather than lay it all on the line. But make no mistake, this loss is on the coach. He completely blew the second half of this game in many, many ways, some of which I will detail below, but I do want everyone to know that this is intended to be a constructive critique, not a blast.
Look, we all have bad games. Last game, I thought the coach did fine, the team just took Ole Miss for granted, did not do their homework and that loss was definitely on them. This was Gillispie's turn to have a bad game. Coaches have bad games, too, and they deserve our support when that happens. Coaches are public targets, and most people find it distasteful to take out their angry recriminations on 18-22-year old men, and I agree with that.
But as Kentucky fans, we are expected to be knowledgeable about the game, and have an understanding beyond that of most fan bases, and I do hope that is what we will see comment-wise in this thread instead of a lot of angry venting. Leave the venting to KSR and The Cats Pause. You expect more from me, and I have high expectations of my members as well. But we would be remiss if we did not analyze what went right and what went wrong, and so, I begin with a critique of the coach, with the caveat that I am fully aware that I have never coached even one basketball game and he is infinitely more qualified than I to be making these decisions:
- Using Jodie Meeks to defend Devan Downey. Jodie Meeks is an above average defensive player, perhaps even very good. What he is not is quick enough or long enough to handle Downey. Ramon Harris and DeAndre Liggins held Downey to almost nil in the first half, yet with the game on the line, Gillispie put Meeks on him. Meeks played him well, but he is not quick or long enough to defend a player like that. In my judgment, that decision cost us this game.
- Playing Michael Porter deep into the second half. Porter continuously got beat on defense and turned the ball over 4 times. He almost single-handedly gave back a ten point lead with ballhandling errors and poor decisions.
- I don't blame Gillispie for pulling Liggins after that incredibly stupid three. I know this is an ongoing issue with Liggins. I do think the decision to hold him out so long early in the second half was a mistake, but I can't be to hard on him for trying to send a message.
- Why was Stevenson switching off on Downey? That seems insane to me, but maybe there is some method or theory in which that works. If so, it didn't work out well today.
- Why do the 'Cats continually rotate all our big people to the ball and give up offensive rebounds and put backs? Rotate one. Not both.
- I applaud the attempt to tire the Gamecocks. it was good strategy. It didn't work in the end, but it was good strategy.
- I thought Gillsipie generally made bad decisions on how this game was played -- the Gamecocks are one giant mismatch, and Gillspie has to find a way to deal with mismatches better than this. UK did not stay home on three point shooters, and it cost them.
Now, a few other observations:
- When will DeAndre Liggins stop taking ridiculous, brain-dead bad shots?
- Why do the 'Cats miss so many point-blank shots around the rim? They have done that the last two games.
- 26 points off turnovers. That is ... intolerable.
- UK rebounded pretty well, but the Gamecocks got too many offensive rebounds.
- I was disappointed in the officiating. I didn't think it was very consistent, but that wasn't why UK lost. But it did force Gillispie into a technical, and coincidentally perhaps, that technical wound up being the difference.
- Overall, I have no problem with the effort this team put out. It was much better than Ole Miss. But the foolish turnovers completely nullified their effort. If the 'Cats don't find some way to take care of the ball, UK will continue to lose.
- Great game by Patterson. I can't find a thing to criticize, except maybe his rebounding, which could have been better.
- If Ramon Harris could avoid turnovers and shoot anything, UK would be much better. He makes so many unforced errors.
- Perry Stevenson did a lot. But he missed two huge free throws.
- Kentucky shot 52% overall, 37% from 3, 82% from the line and lost. Why? Turnovers. South Carolina shot 11% lower overall, 3% worse from three. But they got off 28 more shots than UK. That's a horror show.
I must admit, a nice tot of Four Roses bourbon has taken the edge off my frustration, but I am very unhappy with this loss. It was a regression to earlier in the year when Kentucky couldn't get up a shot but 7 possessions out of ten. This is a loathsome ballhandling team, and I just cannot believe that Gillispie can't coach some of it out. The failure to do so now belongs with Gillispie, because the team is making the same fundamental errors over and over and over again as though they never practice. So whatever coach is doing to fix the problem, it isn't working.
Maybe he should try something else.