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A Tough Afternoon in Lexington

This has been a tough week in the Bluegrass state…..ice and power outages everywhere, both of which seemed to surface on the basketball court for the Cats. In a game that could have put the Cats in sole possession of first place in the diluted SEC, the Cats fell to South Carolina 78-77 on their home court. Going into the game, the Gamecocks seemed like the type of team that could give UK trouble…..they often liked to spread the floor with their quick guards and take a number of three pointers against bigger, stronger teams. But that wasnt the gameplan that South Carolina brought into Rupp. They played the Cats straight up, rarely going one-on-one (at least until the end) and simply outworked the Cats on the offensive glass, getting 18 offensive boards. In the end this wasnt a gameplan loss or a matchup loss….it was a defeat in which everyone, both players and coaches, were simply outmanned. That is why it is tougher to take. Some notes…..

— We should not overlook the amazing game that Patrick Patterson had tonight, even in the loss. Patterson played with a fire on the offensive end, scoring 28 points and making all 8 of his free throw opportunities. It was the Patterson of pre-finger injury time, as he found himself with great position throughout the game and was the recipient of a number of good passes for easy scores. Even when the Cats’ effort is difficult to watch, Patterson brings it and tonight was no exception. 40 minutes of stellar play.

— After the game, Gillispie did his usual “we got whipped” comments but then he also said that this team has to start taking it personal when they get beat on the glass and for rebounds. Gillispie said that “the team plays hard” but that it doesnt show toughness and the ability to take personal difficult moments in games. I asked Perry Stevenson what he thought the Coach meant after the game and he said, “I honestly dont know. I take it personal. We all want to win.” In virtually all games that the Cats have lost this year, “toughness” has been the go-to reason for Gillispie as to why the game was lost. But he doesnt define exactly what that means and at times you wonder if being “tough” will make guys who are bad ball handlers and shooters, able to score with any more frequency.

Offensive rebounds were the key to the South Carolina win and Gillispie mentioned afterwards that they have been the basis for the last two losses. I asked afterwards if the rebounds were due to lack of positioning (aka good rotation for offside rebounds when the post gets doubled stopping penetration) or simply a lack of “toughness.” Gillispie said both were at fault and that the folks playing the position that will require offside boxing out (often whoever is at the “3” or “4” position on the court) have to get better positioning.

— The most difficult part of the loss for many folks is the fact that Perry Stevenson had two free throws that could have won it, missing them with 22 seconds left. Stevenson was bringing the ball up court, an odd decision considering time and situation, and was fouled. As a 74% shooter however, you had to think Stevenson would at least make one of his shots, but both rimmed in and out. After the game, Coach Horn said that considering the fact they were in Lexington and how the game was going, they were going for the win. Thus if Stevenson had hit one shot, South Carolina likely takes a three……missing those free throws will stay with the team for a bit.

— It was a confidence building performance for Darius Miller. He looked more aggressive on offense and played better on defense than in any game this season. He is much better on rotation and was not beaten as easily off the dribble. Certainly his best overall performance in some time.

Michael Porter struggled for most of the game and had a number of turnovers….3 in the book and 2 in the form of missed wide open layups. Not his best performance. Same for Harris, who played good defense (guarding Downey in the first half and Frederick in the second), but with a number of errors on offense that make it difficult for him to stay in the game.

— You do have to point out that Jodie Meeks simply didnt have it on defense. He guarded Frederick for much of the first half and Downey for most of the second and both men went off during that time period. I got the feeling that Gillispie’s comments that suggested people needed to take things more personal was likely aimed at Meeks and how he was beaten on the defensive end. He is too good a defender to have a game like today.

— The stuff about Gillispie and Horn not shaking hands was false. They did share a handshake.

— The referees were horrendous. Not biased necessarily but overall just awful. One of the refs (the youngest guy) may have made more awful calls in one game than any other referee for the entire season.

— I like the name Zam

— There is a great deal to like about Darrin Horn. The guy has a bright future and if he is successful in Columbia, things in the SEC East may get hairy.

This loss hurts…..and it makes the next stretch for the Cats crucial. They have gone from a team that could be one of the top four seeds to a team that has games at South Carolina, Florida and Vandy, Arkansas plus home games against Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida and LSU that they likely need to go 5-3 in just to ensure a tournament berth….I am not sure a ten loss team in this year’s SEC certainly makes it. Things have heated up a bit for the Cats and Tuesday night’s game could be make or break.

Article written by Matt Jones