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Kentucky Road Basketball: Same Nightmare Different Night

Six Kentucky road losses by a total of 18 points.  So close, yet so far, and uber-frustrating to UK fans everywhere.  Not in the life of my own Kentucky "fandom" (spanning 35 years) can I remember a team being so (pick your poison) unlucky, bad, snake-bit, "unconfident", unsure, and just plain unsuccessful while traveling the SEC road show (the 2002 'Cats lost four SEC road games by a total of 21 points, with two of those "L's" coming in overtime).

So in an effort to discover why the 'Cats have been unable to "get over the road hump," I've broken down each SEC road loss, looking for a common theme to point to as the reason for UK's six losses.  I then draw a conclusion [s] which I feel is the reason for each individual loss.

For a look at how UK's season (barely) became a nightmare of historical proportions, follow me after the jump. 

Georgia 77  Kentucky 70

End Game: With 4:37 remaining in the game, the 'Cats were down 62-59 after clawing nearly all the way back from an 18-point second half deficit.  The Dogs, though, made their free throws in the final minutes, and UK was never able to mount any type of rally down the stretch.

Georgia High Point Performer of the Game: Trey Thompkins -- The UGA All-SEC forward scored 25-points on seven of 15 shooting from the field, and made 11 of 12 free throws, while grabbing seven rebounds.  On the year, Thompkins averages 16.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

UGA Game Stats: 44.9% field goal shooting; 33.3% three-point shooting (3-9), 88.2% free throw shooting (30-34); 23.3 offensive rebound %.

UGA Season Stats: 45.4% field goal shooting; 34.7% three-point shooting; 68.4% free throw shooting; 36.1 offensive rebound %.

Kentucky High Point Performer of the Game: Terrence Jones -- Jones dropped-in 24-points on nine of 18 shooting from the field (2-5 treys), and grabbed 10 rebounds.

UK Game Stats: 38.0% field goal shooting; 30.0% three-point shooting (6-20); 62.5% free throw shooting (10-16); 29.2 offensive rebounding %.  Kentucky won the points in the paint battle by a 38-28 count, points off turnovers by five, 15-10, and also scored more second chance points, 14-8 (as well as grabbed a higher % of their offensive rebound opportunities).

Statistically, the most telling numbers of this loss are Georgia's free throw percentage, which was nearly 20 points higher than their season average, and the sheer number of charity stripe makes UGA had compared to UK (30-10).  Kentucky did best the Dogs on this day by grabbing a higher percentage of offensive rebounds (29% to 23%), but UK's abysmal 38.0% field goal accuracy was just bad enough to offset the 'Cats holding their own on the boards, and is the primary reason for the loss. 

** In this game, the 'Cats were famously pushed around by the Dogs, and never responded to the physical challenge of the more aggressive Georgia players.  A problem which would prove persistent.

Alabama 68  Kentucky 66

End Game: Kentucky was down by one (67-66), with the ball, with 1:03 remaining in the game, but at the :39 mark the 'Cats turned the ball over.  Then, like a gift from the basketball gods, the Tide gave the ball back to UK with :11 seconds, with a turnover of their own.  On the ensuing set play out of the timeout, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb fumbled a hand-off on the wing, giving the ball back to Bama.  Start the bus.

Alabama High Point Performer of the Game: JaMychal Green -- The big Bama forward (and former UK recruit) scored 18-points on seven of 15 shooting and snagged 11 rebounds.  On the year, Green is averaging 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest.

UA Game Stats: 44.6% field goal shooting; 50.0% three-point shooting (7-14); 64.7% free throw shooting (11-17); 55.9 offensive rebound %. 

UA Season Stats: 45.2% field goal shooting; 30.5% three-point shooting; 72.3% free throw shooting; 37.7 offensive rebound %. 

Kentucky High Point Performer of the Game: Once again Terrence Jones led the 'Cats with 17-points (7-10 free throws) and grabbed nine rebounds.

UK Game Stats: 37.7% field goal shooting; 33.3% three-pointers (7-21); 59.0% free throws (13-22); 46.3 offensive rebound %.  The 'Cats were beaten by only two points in the paint, 32-30, but the Tide got the best of UK by outscoring the 'Cats by six in second chance points (20-14).  UK, though, seemed to offset that advantage by winning the points off turnover war by a wide margin, 24-9, mostly due to Bama turning it over 19 times, to UK's 12 miscues.

Statistically, jumping off the page is Bama making seven of 14 treys, when on the season they are a relatively poor three-point shooting club at 30.5%.  Secondly, both teams hit the offensive glass with abandon, but Alabama ended up edging the 'Cats by nine-percentage points in that category.  Thirdly, UK uncharacteristically shot a bad percentage from the foul line (59.0%), something one can easily point to as assisting in the loss -- For when a team misses nine of 22 free shots, and loses the game by two-points ...  Finally, once again UK shot poorly on the road (37.3%), and that, coupled with the terrible free throw shooting, is what ultimately cost Kentucky this game.

Mississippi 71  Kentucky 69

End Game: Kentucky led this ball game 69-68 with :15 remaining, and in possession of the ball.  With :06 remaining on the shot clock (:14 on the game clock), Kentucky passed up a wide-open three-point shot from the deep wing, instead settling for a rushed mid-range errant attempt rebounded by the Rebels.  Ole Miss guard Chris Warren then drilled a 25-foot three-point shot with :05 left, essentially ending the game.

Ole Miss High Point Performer of the Game: Chris Warren -- Warren torched the 'Cats with 22-points on nine of 15 shooting from the field (60.0%), making four of seven long-range attempts (57.1%).  He added three assists and only one turnover.  On the year, Warren is averaging 18.8 points per game on 41.2% field goal shooting (34.9% from distance).

UM Game Stats: 42.9% field goal shooting; 47.1% three-point shooting (8-17); 81.8% free throw shooting; 24.3 offensive rebound %.

UM Season Stats: 44.7% field goal shooting; 34.5% three-point shooting; 75.4% free throw shooting; 36.0 offensive rebound %.

Kentucky High Point Performer of the Game: Terrence Jones & Doron Lamb -- Jones led the 'Cats in scoring with 22-points (8-11 free throws), and grabbed 12 rebounds.  Lamb nearly matched Jones' point production with 20 of his own (8-13 fgs).

UK Game Stats: 49.0% field goal shooting; 38.5% three-point shooting (5-13); 77.8% free throw shooting (14-18); 30.8 offensive rebound %.  The 'Cats and Rebs tied in the points in the paint scoring at 32, but Ole Miss got the best of the 'Cats in points off turnovers, 18-10 (UK had 18 TO's to UM's 11).  Ole Miss held a slight advantage in second chance points, 9-5, even though the 'Cats grabbed a higher percentage of offensive rebounds (31% to 24%). 

Statistically, once again a team shoots lights-out versus the 'Cats.  This time, the UM guards tickle the twine at an unacceptable (for UK folks) rate of accuracy from beyond the arc (47%), well above their season percentage of 34.5.  Adding insult to injury, Ole Miss -- who I'll grant is a good free throw shooting team -- also nailed nearly every free throw they took, making nine of 11.  Kentucky shot the ball very well enough to win, but their 18 turnovers really did them in, especially when one considers the Rebs took 12 more shots than UK, and outscored the 'Cats in points off turnovers by eight.

Florida 70  Kentucky 68

End Game: With 1:52 remaining, UK was up 66-65, but a Kentucky foul gives Florida two free throws, putting the Gators up one-point.  The 'Cats then miss a jumper, Florida rebounds and makes their own "j," putting the home team up three-points.  With :40 remaining, UK dunks to pull within one-point.  Kentucky then fouls Florida, but the Gators made only one of two free throws, leaving the door open for a UK win, but the 'Cats miss a three-pointer with :03 left, ending the game. 

Florida High Point Performer of the Game: Chandler Parsons -- The versatile Gator forward scored 17-points on six of 10 shooting (2-4 three-pointers), grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out five assists to only one turnover.  On the year, Parsons is averaging 11.0 points per game and 7.7 rebounds.

UF Game Stats: 43.4% field goal shooting; 31.6% three-point shooting (6-19); 81.8% free throw shooting (18-22); 21.2 offensive rebound %.

UF Season Stats: 45.8% field goal shooting; 34.1% three-point shooting; 66.1% free throw shooting; 38.7 offensive rebound %.

Kentucky High Point Performer of the Game: Brandon Knight -- UK's freshman point guard scored 24-points on seven of 14 overall shooting (4-5 three-pointers), grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists (and four turnovers).

UK Game Stats: 46.3% field goal shooting; 58.3% three-point shooting (7-12); 84.6% free throws (11-13); 19.4 offensive rebound %.  Florida swept the 'Cats in the points in the paint category (30-24), points off turnovers (14-12), and second chance points (10-6).

Statistically, the Gators made nearly 82% of their free throws in this game, while they average 66% on the year, and considering UF had 22 charity stripe attempts, this increase in FT% "gave" the Gators an additional three to four points.  This game also saw the 'Cats shoot the ball very well, turn the ball over 11 times, and lose the offensive rebounding category by less than two percentage points.  Hurting UK in this game, though, was their meager 24 points in the paint, while allowing the Gators 30.

Vanderbilt 81  Kentucky 77

End Game: Kentucky was down by two, 71-69, with 2:50 remaining, and the ball, but a Wildcat turnover led to a Vandy layup, giving the Dores a four-point cushion.  Another TO by the 'Cats, this one at the 2:23 mark, led to yet another Commodore layup and a 75-69 lead.  Vanderbilt then made their free throws in the last couple of minutes, rendering any UK comeback nearly impossible.

Vanderbilt High Point Performer of the Game: John Jenkins -- One of the leading candidates for SEC Player of the Year led the Dores with 32-points on 11 of 17 shooting (a big 6-10 three-pointers), and handed out three assists.  On the season, Jenkins is averaging 19.6 points per contest, and makes 41.5% of this trey tries.

VU Game Stats: 46.3% field goal shooting; 55.0% three-point shooting (11-20); 87.0% free throw shooting; 34.5 offensive rebound %.

VU Season Stats: 45.5% field goal shooting; 38.7% three-point shooting; 74.9% free throw shooting; 33.3 offensive rebound %.

Kentucky High Point Performer of the Game: Terrence Jones -- Jones poured in 25-points on nine of 14 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked three shots.

UK Game Stats: 46.7 field goal shooting; 30.4% three-point shooting; 77.8% free throw shooting; 36.4 offensive rebound %.  Kentucky dominated the Dores in points in the paint, 34-22, and eked out a points off turnovers victory, 16-15, but Vandy barely bested the 'Cats in second chance points, 17-16.

Statistically, the most obvious 'Cat-killing stat was Vanderbilt's dead-eye three-point shooting, which was nearly 17 percentage points higher than their season average.  Bolstering VU's shooting numbers was Jenkins and his incredible shooting night where he put dagger after dagger into Big Blue's chances of winning the contest.  Once again, a road opponent made their free throws at a considerably higher rate than their season average, hurting the 'Cats chances of victory.

Arkansas 77  Kentucky 76 in OT

End Game: In regulation, UK led the Hogs 70-68 with 1:14 remaining, but an Arkansas layup off an offensive rebound tied the score late.  The 'Cats missed two shots (to win) inside the final six-seconds to send the game to OT.  In overtime, the 'Cats led the game by one with :20 left, but a Kentucky TO led to a Razorback layup with 17 seconds remaining, giving the Hogs a one-point cushion.  UK then missed three shots in the final :07 to seal their (fickle) fate.

Arkansas High Point Performer of the Game: Rotnei Clarke led the Hogs with 26-points, but he was only six of 16 from the field and three of nine from long-range.  Also hurting the 'Cats was a 22-point performance by Razorback forward Marshawn Powell who scored 22-points on nine of 19 shooting, and an uncharacteristic two of three from beyond the arc.  Powell also gathered 10 rebounds.  On the year, Clarke averages 14.3 points per game, and Powell 11.1, to go along with 4.4 rebounds.  Powell, who made 66.7% of his three-point tries in the game, on the year averages 23.8%. 

UA Game Stats: 38.4% field goal shooting; 33.3% three-point shooting (7-21); 77.8% free throw shooting; 44.9 offensive rebound %.

UA Season Stats: 43.6% field goal shooting; 35.1% three-point shooting; 69.4% free throw shooting; 29.7 offensive rebound %.

Kentucky High Points Performer of the Game: Brandon Knight -- Knight scored 26-points, but took 23 shots (making eight) to get there.  UK's point also grabbed eight rebounds and handed out five assists.  Big man Josh Harrellson snagged 14 rebounds (six offensive).

UK Game Stats: 42.3% field goal shooting; 15.8% three-point shooting; 86.7% free throw shooting; 47.5 offensive rebound %.  UK allowed an inexcusable 40 points in the paint, to their own 36.  Arkansas beat the 'Cats 10-5 in points off turnovers (both teams committed eight TO's), but UK won the second chance points battle, 20-18.

Statistically, Powell killed the 'Cats with his big game, doubling his season scoring average and making two of three long-bombs, when he makes the three-pointer at only 23.8% on the year.  UK did a nice job of holding the Hogs under their season shooting averages (both two-pointers and three-pointers), but the 'Cats three of 19 from beyond the arc proved too much to overcome.  The 'Cats also allowed UA to hit the offensive boards much too effectively, although Kentucky did out-pace the Hogs in that department 47.5% to 44.9%.

Drawing Conclusions

Pointing to one reason for UK's utter lack of road success is very difficult to do.  For in nearly every loss, there were differing factors as to why the 'Cats came up just short of victory. 

When considering overall field goal shooting, in the six losses, UK shot 42.9% to their opponents 43.1%; pretty doggone close.  From the free throw line, the 'Cats made 75 of 102 shots (73.5%), while the opposition made 102 of 125 (an otherworldly 81.6%), meaning the 'Cats were outscored by an average of 4.5 points per game from the stripe. 

The cumulative points in the paint numbers look like this (steady yourself): 180-180.

In four of the losses the 'Cats snagged offensive rebounds at a higher rate than their opponent, but UK was cumulatively outscored by their road opponents in second chance points, 82-75, an average of just over one-point per contest (the only game where UK was manhandled on the offensive boards was the Alabama contest (55.9% to 46.3%, leading to the 'Cats being beaten 20-14 in second chance points).

In my view, and based on the above stats, the youthful 'Cats are so very, very close to being a consistently winning road team ... if not for a turnover here, an empty possession there, UK, instead of being 7-6, could very easily be 12-1, or 11-2 in the SEC.

So bow your backs UK fans, the worm could turn at any moment (and hopefully in time for the final game of the regular season in Knoxville) ... or not. 

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!