After a few hours of reading the usual handwringing from the usual suspects, the griping about Gillispie's impolite handling of Jeannine Edwards' sophomoric question, lots of peevish grumbling about coaching and substitution patterns and bad shooting from three and third scorers and all that angst, I think I have come to a few conclusions.
The first and most obvious is that I understand the anxiety. Look, UK fans, whether perception or reality, felt like they had just climbed out of a long, dark, cold cave to a glimmer of sunlight, only to see a big tree collapse over the opening and plunge them back into a dark abyss. This sort of feeling will make you rather cross with almost anything remotely involved in your misery, and it isn't as though Kentucky fans are renowned for their infinitely patient understanding of even a mild setback. In fact, I think I can safely say that the Big Blue Nation is notoriously intolerant of even the least of these, and that this fact isn't likely to change anytime soon.
For those who scoff at the quickness of the Big Blue Nation to this frustration, the latin term condemnant quod non intellegunt (they condemn what they do not understand) would seem to apply. Kentucky fans have been singled out for years as among the most knowlegeable and passionate in all of college basketball, and I think that in sum, that is true.
What most of us have lost sight of here is that this was not the sudden exposure of weakness. Team after team has tried to hold Meeks down after his 54-point explosion at Tennessee, and all have failed until Ole Miss. There is plenty of blame as well as praise to go around for why this happened, but let's be honest here -- this is a learning experience for both the team and the fans. UK has not had a scoring duo this prolific, or this surrounded by an apparent lack of firepower, since before most of us can remember. We don't really know how to play with these type of guys, because UK has historically, and particularly in the last 15 years or so, had any number of players who could put the ball in the basket.
But this doesn't tell the whole story. This team also has no idea how to play properly with two superstars, and evidently, neither does Coach Gillispie. Case in point -- last night, we had Jodie Meeks guarding Ole Miss' best offensive player. I think highly of Meeks, but defense is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him. That isn't to say Jodie is a poor defender, he isn't. But riddle me this -- who on UK's team has been the lock-down defender all year? Those of you who said "Ramon Harris," good for you. Why did we force Meeks to expend all his energy guarding Huertas? Bad coaching decision? I think yes, but again, we have to look at the context. Gillispie is not used to the care and feeding of an offensive superstar of Meeks' caliber.
Another problem that both the team and the fans are having is managing expectations. For the fans, this is a constant issue that should surprise nobody. For the team, it is a different story. The players are always looking to get the ball to Meeks or Patterson, and seem frozen with indecision and even fearful apprehension when the other team takes those options away. They expect those guys to do the scoring while they do the other stuff. That's just not what we need.
This team has to learn to constantly attack, and stop being so concerned about what Jodie and Pat are doing. Man up, guys. DeAndre, that doesn't mean you start jacking up threes or trying to drive 94 feet into the paint. Penetrate and kick. If they sag, lay the ball in the basket. If not, hit the open three point shooter or post player.
Stevenson must start taking the 15 footer. He's turned down dozens of them trying to get a better shot over the last 5 games. Perry -- shoot the ball, you're open. 15 feet is a free throw, and you shoot 75% from there. There is no better shot unless Pat opens for a layup. Be confident. Shoot the ball.
Defensively, over-rotation and quick jumping killed us. I can't remember the number of times that Patterson and Stevenson wound up going for blocks together. You can't do that -- somebody has to guard the basket. Patterson found himself 20ft. away from the basket at least three times trying to guard another man's responsibility while his man got open for a layup. That's just a lack of trust, and trying to do more than one man can do. Over and over again, Patterson and Stevenson mis-timed their jumps, leading to easy put-backs.
Trust is earned, but sometimes, you have to go on faith, and trust the coach to take care of the problem if somebody is not pulling their share of the load. UK needs to stay at home more on defense, and trust the defender, even if he looks to be beaten, to get back in the play. Rotate when a basket is imminent, and trust the guy who has responsibility for help defense on that side.
Folks, what we have here are growing pains. This is a team that is just now finding itself, and is still a player or two away from being really good. The lack of focus and intensity to match Ole Miss was noticed by Patterson, and I'm confident that they will all work hard to correct the deficiencies. Make no mistake, this is not a Final Four team, and may not even be a Sweet 16 team. But this year's version of the Wildcats can be a very good team if they will trust each other, if role players will accept some of the offensive responsibility, and if all of them will stop trying to be Superman. Just be Patrick, Jodie, Ramon, Perry, Michael, Deandre, Josh, Darius and A.J.
That is enough, trust me.