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Kentucky at Tennessee -- After Action Report

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Congratulations to Tennessee for a great game, and a gritty victory.  Kentucky put forth an effort that was nearly one for the ages, desperately shorthanded against one of the best teams in college basketball this year.  At the end, however, the many minutes played by Kentucky's starters simply took their toll, and Kentucky struggled to hold on to the ball.  It was a tough loss, but the Wildcats left no doubt that while Patrick Patterson is a critical part of the team, he isn't a one-man show by any means.

Perry Stevenson simply could not have played any better.  Even though the bigger and stronger Volunteers manhandled Kentucky on the glass all day, Stevenson showed that playing with Patrick Patterson has completely changed him as a player.  Many doubted that Perry was up to the task, and that most of his production was due as much to the attention given Patterson as to anything else, but Stevenson proved them wrong today with a strong double-double and a great job intimidating many shots.  Unfortunately, he still has a tendency to get pushed around a lot, but his effort today was truly extraordinary.

This is a setback for the Kentucky Wildcats on their quest to get a bid into the NCAA tournament, but the way they played this game may wind up weighing more heavily in the minds of the committee than the outcome.  In order to secure an at-large bid, the Wildcats have to overcome at least one and preferably both of their next two opponents, one on the road and one at home.  If they fail, they will need to win the tournament outright.  If they defeat one, my feeling is the Cats will need two victories in the SEC tournament to secure a bid.  If they defeat both South Carolina and Florida, one victory in the tournament may be sufficient.  But one thing is certain -- nobody would have been surprised if Tennessee beat UK by 20 today in Knoxville.  The fact that UK had a shot at the buzzer to tie will matter.

I cannot say enough about the grit and effort given by this team.  There are no moral victories, and this is just a loss, plain and simple.  However, many people expected this team just to fail open after losing Patterson, and nothing in today's game suggests that is ever going to happen.  Ramel Bradley and Derrick Jasper nailed shot after big shot, and defended a much more talented team to within an inch of victory.  This team has shown more heart than the teams of the last three more successful years combined, and that is a magnificent testament to the coaching of Billy Gillispie.

Gillispie knew exactly how Tennessee could be beaten, and for 32 minutes, the Wildcats executed that strategy to near perfection.  For the first 5 or 6 minutes of the first half and the very last couple of minutes of the second, the Wildcats struggled with ballhandling, just as they have all season.  In the end, they lost by turnovers, and that is probably what we should have expected.  Still, the number of big shots hit by Crawford, Bradley, Jasper and even Ramon Harris has to give this team confidence that they can beat anybody, even as short handed as they are.

I am very pleased the way this team competed and executed, for the most part.  I am less than pleased with all the late turnovers, but fatigue was surely a factor.  Tennessee was the much fresher team down the stretch.  If we are going to play this spread-out, high-screen game game, we have to learn to work with a bit more time on the shot clock.  Kentucky also must find a way to do a better job rebounding the basketball, somehow, some way.  But overall, this style of play could hold the seeds of two more victories in the regular season, and although I am not tremendously confident, I am much more confident than I was before today.

Great effort, Wildcats, and a tough loss.  But your work isn't done, and you have proven to anyone who saw this game that you  are far from dead as a factor in the SEC East, and possibly even in the SEC tournament.