Well that is about as bad as it gets in my view. A Kentucky team that was outworked, outperformed and outcoached in Columbia suffered an embarrassing “not as close as it seems” 20 point loss that could have major ramifications down the road. From the opening tap, South Carolina dominated the game in every conceivable way. They were quicker to the ball, played with more confidence, found the open man, harassed on defense, froze people on offense and simply dominated a Kentucky team playing a game for a potential SEC East title and NCAA Tournament certainty. There is no downplaying just how atrocious Kentucky was on all levels and with one exception (which we will get to later), this game was (at least in my view) the low point of the season thus far. Some notes….
— It is hard for me to comprehend how Kentucky can once again create a gameplan with such a little chance of success in a major game. It was no secret coming in that this South Carolina team was a difficult matchup for Billy Gillispie. His “trap on every drive” and pressure defense philosophy is built to be burned by teams with quick guards who can kick out to good three point shooters. This type of team has been Gillispie’s downfall and virtually every game they have played against a team so constructed has ended in a loss. But at this point, every Kentucky coach, player or fan knew that and surely saw the difficulties on the horizon. So WHY NOT MAKE AN ADJUSTMENT? You know coming in that Downey can beat your point guard off the dribble….you know Zam Frederick has success against Meeks….you know that they have three point shooters who can drain the open shot. So why not run SOME other defensive set? I am not saying you have to zone, but why not dial back the pressure, keep the defenders in front of you and make them make threes off the dribble….a skill they havent shown they can do. Why continue to pressure so far out and double down with your wing guards? Why not make some change to the philosophy? Gillispie presented Darrin Horn with the same philosophy he beat in Lexington….and this time Horn made adjustments and beat even worse. Baffling.
— In a similar vein, once again Gillispie did not put players in a position to succeed. Case in point, Landon Slone. For whatever reason, Gillispie decided that tonight would be the first game all of the SEC season that he would play Slone real minutes……that is a fine choice. However in so doing, he put him in with Michael Porter and guarding Devan Downey. Now what chance does Landon have to succeed there? No matter how hard he plays or how much effort he puts in, Slone will NOT be able to guard Downey in a Gillispie style defense. IF you want to play Slone, I respect that choice, but put in a position where he has a chance to succeed. No one with any rational thought could have believed that Porter/Slone could guard Frederick/Downey….but that is what they were asked to do….and in so doing the kids are given no chance.
— In a season full of oddities, tonight’s substitution patterns were beyond bizarre. Gillispie played Perry Stevenson for 15 minutes in the first half and then he didnt get off the bench in the second. Ramon Harris played 5 minutes in the first half and then 19 in the second. Jodie Meeks is taken out with 12 minutes to go (and afterwards Gillispie seemed to suggest it was because the game was out of hand) but then was reinserted with 3 minutes to go for reasons that are hard to comprehend. AJ Stewart and Josh Harrellson play 3 minutes each and are ripped in the postgame for lack of effort but DeAndre Liggins plays 31 minutes and made untold amounts of errors. We are used to a season in which a player has a great game and then sees no playing time in the next game, but tonight’s substitution patterns may have taken it to another level. We might need a “Being John Malkovich” moment just to understand what thought process led to them….because it certainly was hard to comprehend.
— Now having said all that, a word of praise. PATRICK PATTERSON WAS A MAN TONIGHT!. Yes he had his shot blocked a number of times, but that had more to do with a desire to score when no other options were available. But from the very first tap, Patterson gave it his all on EVERY play….whether the Cats were down 2 or 26, his effort never slowed down. The way the game played itself out, it hurt many things for Patrick individually….his shooting percentage was down and his lack of help caused him to take some embarassing plays. But his effort only ratcheted up and when it would have been more than easy to quick, Patterson kept going. Gillispie said afterwards that he asked Patrick if he wanted to come out, because he “didnt deserve” what was happening. But he said no, and in so doing showed why he has a heart of a warrior and is one of my favorites to ever wear the jersey.
— It goes without saying, that the point guard play tonight could not have been worse. Michael Porter was beyond awful….five turnovers in 11 minutes and he couldnt guard anyone on the court. DeAndre Liggins was not much better, playing out of control, and guarding no particular man on the court. After the game, Gillispie mentioned the poor point guard play and said that South Carolina has a point guard “and we dont.” Well that is certainly the case, but with two brought in this year and another on the way, one should hope that the situation would be better than it is now.
— Coach Gillispie called out Perry Stevenson after the game. Here was his quote as written by Matt MAy of TCP:
“He’s just not playing hard enough,” Gillispie said. “That’s two times in the last, what, week or eight days that I’ve said something about a guy not playing hard enough and that’s the first two times in my career I’ve ever said that. That’s shameful, in my opinion, to everyone involved.”
All in all, a difficult game to digest. One doesnt want to say the sky is falling, because as we have seen, these type of teams give Kentucky huge matchup problems. And yes, I still like the Cats on Saturday against LSU. But one certainly would have hoped for a better performance from players and coaches tonight. It didnt come and that makes it a very difficult night indeed.