Another day, another frustrating loss for Kentucky. I said this was the biggest game of the year for the 'Cats, and it was. It was a great college basketball game by both teams, incredible intensity and tenacious defense -- the kind of game you expect to see at the end of February, but not the kind of results the Cats have historically expected.
Congratulations to the LSU Tigers. They were the best team today -- barely. But the stat that counts the most is the final score, and when you are on the long end of that at Rupp Arena, you have a lot to be proud of. LSU's maturity was very much evident in today's game, and it wound up being the edge they needed to pull out a hard fought win. Well done, Tigers, and congrats to all the LSU fans out there. Your team did you proud.
For Kentucky, this was a big improvement from the South Carolina game in every way but the one that matters most -- the final score. This was also a tale of two halves -- a first half which looked very much like the Kentucky we have seen all to often lately, and the second half, which was a Jodie Meeks three or a challenged Marcus Thornton three and missed free throw away from a big win. You hate to lose games after getting a decent lead, but LSU is such a mature and experienced team that they have no quit or panic in them, and that was all they needed to fight back for a victory.
- I predicted that Garrett Temple could not guard Meeks. I was both right and wrong. For about 20 minutes, he gave Meeks fits, but then Jodie used his quickness to put Temple in foul trouble, limiting him to only 25 minutes. Meeks was a missed free throw away from his average.
- I was also concerned about Thornton, and that proved to be right. But I was wrong about him also. He did not do all his damage from the perimeter, as I have seen most times this year. In the end, he took UK to the hole and did a ton of damage.
- Tasmin Mitchell was simply all-world. He was almost singularly responsible for defeating the cats. 21 points and 8 rebounds.
- The adjustment Gillispie made at half was to go with Galloway at the point guard, and it paid off in spades. I have been very critical of Porter starting and playing all these minutes, and I wonder if Gillispie hasn't finally just gotten fed up with the limitations Porter has. I have never seen Porter look more tentative, and he managed one assist and two turnovers in only seventeen minutes.
- Patrick Patterson was back to his old self, and got the job done. He did everything he possibly could.
- Perry Stevenson once again disappeared after the first half. I can't explain it. He played reasonably well in the first half, and then simply vanished like Frodo putting on the Ring of Power. I have no idea what's happening there.
- Darius Miller once again came up huge on both sides of the ball. Watching his confidence and ability grow is just a wonderful thing for this aging Kentucky fan. I just love what he is doing.
- DeAndre Liggins did not play much today, because he got lazy defensively. End of story.
- Josh Harrelson gave us some help, but vanished after four minutes and never got back in the game.
- I think Gillispie just stuck with the lineup in the second half because it was playing so well, but he really should have gotten them more rest. I don't get the lack of substitution that seems to be a Gillispie hallmark in the second half of games. But, at least I saw something new and different that actually worked, and it gives me hope.
- Gillispie's game plan was the same one as it has been all year. The problem is, when Meeks or Patterson aren't 100%, it just doesn't work. I suppose there is just not much to be done about it. We either win or lose with Meeks and Patterson.
- Ramon Harris just didn't have much of an impact, except for one huge rebound and stick-back. But other than that, he was not a factor at all.
- Bo Spencer killed us in the first half, but we contained him for the most part in the second half.
- Great job by Kevin Galloway. He brought energy and defense and really was the difference in the second half. I am excited that he is finally emerging as a player on this team, and he was a big factor in this game, even though his stat line isn't very impressive with only 3 points, 2 assists and one rebound.
- We shot 54% for the game. And lost. Seems impossible, doesn't it? But only 69% from the line, which turned out to be the difference.
- A.J. Stewart blew an assignment in the end that resulted in an open look for Mitchell. Mitchell made it. Ouch.
This was a tough loss, and I am bitterly disappointed. But that disappointment is tempered with the hope that Gillispie may finally be learning and changing his maddening ways in a manner that may give us a chance to win some games at the end of the season.
As I said in my last postmortem, I have no real hopes for this season. They basically breathed their last breath with the embarrassing loss to South Carolina. But we all knew this team would have some difficulties coming in, and assuming Patterson and Meeks stay around another year, help is on the way. I know it seems kind of weak to already be looking toward next year with so much of this season left, but I have come to the realization that we just aren't a particularly good team this year, and we just don't have enough offense to do much damage in the post season. As the JAG prosecutor played by Kevin Bacon said in A Few Good Men, "Those are the facts ... and they are undisputed."