After a lava-hot 5-0 start to their SEC schedule, the University of Kentucky basketball team finds themselves coming back-to-the-pack, courtesy of shaky decision-making, and stretches of incompetent play, in two straight games now; the latest, UK's 78-77 loss to South Carolina. Maddening to most fans is the fact that we are in early February, a time when mental mistakes should be limited, player's roles should be more readily apparent, and games that UK should win, should be won.
Not so with this group, though. Once again, a mental and physical lapse lasting just under six minutes in the second half, and a player freelancing at a critical juncture, cost UK a much needed home-court victory. Couple those mistakes with UK's 21 turnovers, and a second consecutive loss to a less talented team is the result.
On to the wreckage ...
14:39 to 8:46 of the Second Half
UK was up 54-44. The boys in blue had momentum, the home crowd, and two of the best three players on the court. But all of those advantages weren't enough to overcome the total lack of cohesiveness, toughness, and smarts displayed by the home team:
- 14:39 -- After a Michael Porter turnover, UK's loss began to unfold with yet another offensive rebound for USC (one of 18 on the day). This one a Mike Holmes rebound off a Brandis Raley-Ross missed 3-point attempt. Five seconds later Zam Fredrick nailed a trifecta, with barely an effort to defend by Kentucky. Fredrick's 3-pointer made the score 54-47, UK.
- 13:32 -- After a Patrick Patterson dunk, Fredrick, again a lonely man standing beyond the arc, swished another 3-pointer, making the score 56-50, UK.
- 12:39 -- After two Patterson free throws made the score 58-50, South Carolina decided to perform an offensive rebounding drill in the middle of the game. How dare they! Five consecutive offensive rebounds ensued, culminating in a Sam Muldrow tip-in at the 12:28 mark. That basket brought the Gamecocks within 58-52.
- 12:15 -- A Patterson turnover led to a made Devan Downey 3-pointer. Score it: UK 58, SC 55.
- 11:52 -- Jodie Meeks missed a 3-point attempt, Carolina snagged the rebound, leading to a Fredrick missed shot in the lane, but Austin Steed gets the offensive rebound, leading to a Downey made jumper. UK's lead is now one, 58-57.
- 10:38 -- A Meeks turnover led to a Downey layup. SC now has the lead, 59-58.
- 10:17 -- A turnover (an offensive foul) on DeAndre Liggins led to a made Fredrick layup, growing the Gamecocks lead to 61-58.
- 9:50 -- A Patterson turnover miraculously led to zero points for Carolina. On the Carolina miss, Liggins grabbed the defensive rebound ...
- 9:06 -- ... only to turn it back over to SC six seconds later. The result; a made Downey jumper at the 8:46 mark, and a 63-58 Carolina lead.
Recapping the Carnage
From 14:39 to the 8:46 mark of the second half (5:53), UK's production both offensively and defensively, were lacking to an extraordinary degree. The numbers tell the sad tale:
Points scored -- UK 4, USC 19
Shots taken -- UK 2, USC 16 (SC made 8 of 16 shots from the field; 3 of 6 from beyond the arc)
Rebounds -- UK 1, USC 8
Offensive Rebounds -- UK 0, USC 7 (SC grabbed 87.5% of their offensive rebound opportunities)
Turnovers -- UK 6, USC 0 (SC committed only 3 turnovers in the final 15 minutes of the game)
Points off TO's -- UK 0, USC 9
Second-chance points -- UK 0, USC 7
UK goes from up 10 points, to down five points in less than six minutes. Now that takes talent.
Effort and Focus for Forty
For 34 minutes and seven seconds of Saturday's game, UK played well enough to win, outscoring SC by 14 points. A look at the other relevant stats, minus the offending 5:53, and one cringes with regret:
Points scored -- UK 73 , USC 59
Shots taken -- UK 46, USC 60
Rebounds -- UK 39, USC 27
Offensive rebounds -- UK 9, USC 11
Turnovers -- UK 15, USC 10
Points off TO's -- UK 15, USC 17
Second chance points -- UK 7, USC 14
FG% -- UK 54.3, USC 40.0
But the game isn't 34 minutes and seven seconds long. It's 40 minutes long, and has been for as long as I can remember.
Perry Stevenson Makes a Decision
With 3.2 seconds left on the clock Saturday, Billy Gillispie called the same inbounds play that he called against Georgia in last years SEC Tournament: Basically, he wanted to cause a Carolina defender to charge into Jodie Meeks (who was standing along the baseline) prior to the ball being thrown into play, resulting in a foul on the Gamecocks, and free throws for UK. If the Carolina player didn't charge into Meeks, Stevenson was to call another time-out.
Instead, when the set-play failed to produce the desired result, Stevenson threw the ball in to Meeks anyway. Meeks managed a decent 40 foot attempt, but in 3.2 seconds, a much better play can be designed.
Stevenson explained that he thought Meeks "could get the ball to half-court." He didn't elaborate further, but I assume Perry thought Meeks would call a timeout once he reached mid-court.
We'll never know what would have happened if Stevenson had called the timeout as instructed ... but it would have been nice to see a designed play.
Billy Gillispie's now infamous decision to use Jodie Meeks to guard USC mighty-mite Devan Downey is puzzling to me also. The combo of Liggins, Kevin Galloway, and Ramon Harris did a great job on the ever-elusive guard in the first half (2 of 8 shooting), but Gillispie thought mixing up the coverage would be beneficial. Well, in hind-sight that gamble didn't pay-off for the Texan (8 of 13 second half shooting).
I don't have anything inspired or earth-shattering to write here: just stick with what works. Besides, in my opinion, unless absolutely necessary, UK doesn't need their only three-point threat (and leading scorer) chasing the 5'9" Downey all over the floor. That only wears out his legs, which could result in poor shooting late in the game.
Addendum: Gillispie thought Meeks gave Downey too much room to operate in the final seconds of the game. I thought Meeks defended Downey well, the kid just made a great shot.
Stats to Ponder
How can UK lose a game at home when they shoot 52.1%? They shot a Villanova-like 66.7% in the second half ... and lost the game.
Well, allowing one's opponent to score 26 points off turnovers is a great way to negate an excellent shooting percentage ... allowing one's opponent to score 21 second chance points is a proven method of balancing-out an excellent shooting percentage ... allowing one's opponent to put up 28 more shots is a sure way to offset an excellent shooting percentage ... allowing one's opponent to grab offensive rebounds at a 41.0% clip (18 off. reb's on 44 missed shots) is an exceptional way to minimize an excellent shooting percentage.
Shoot 52.1% at home and lose ...
This is a young team I realize, but we're in February now, and it's time for the team to grow up and play like collegians. Whether their basketball IQ is lacking, or they lose focus because of their tender age ... I don't know why, nor do I care why, but someone has to step up and take charge. And by "take charge" I mean, kick some tail; Gillispie, Cyprien, Webster, Patterson, Meeks, somebody has to take control of this team, and rein in the immature and uneven performances that we've been witnessing.
If they're being handled with kid gloves, then take the gloves off, and convince this team that playing carelessly, and/or lackadaisically will not be tolerated. Conversely, if Gillispie and his staff are being overly hard on this group, then maybe they need to ease up a bit. I don't know, but I do know what they're doing at the present is not working.
Because, when all the fat is boiled away, that's what Gillispie is left with; a team still committing the same silly, thoughtless errors that they were committing in November.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!