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Cats Achilles’ heel: late-game runs

Kentucky has not had the smoothest transition into Southeastern Conference play. The road opener against Vanderbilt was a scare, and coming back home resulted in the second loss at Rupp Arena in the John Calipari era. While one could be brushed off as a “win is a win,” the other is much more unexplainable. Both, however, had a common denominator: damaging late-game runs by the opponent.

In the second half last Thursday, Vanderbilt reeled off an 18-0 run which saw a 16-point Kentucky lead turn into a 2-point deficit over the course of a little more than eight minutes. It was slow and painful to watch. Even more shocking to the situation was the Commodores had only scored 31 points in the 26 minutes prior. A fading team progressing at a rate of 1.19 points per minute suddenly turned into a raging 2.25 points per minute to give the Commodores a lead — its first of the game. Had the sleeping giant been awoken earlier, who knows the possible outcome?

Advance two days as Texas A&M hangs around in Rupp Arena long enough to make its move with six minutes remaining. Kentucky had battled all day in a frustrating affair, quite literally facing a one-man-army. Finally, just when the Cats seemed poised to run away with it on the heels of an Archie Goodwin layup to go up by four, an 18-2 run by the Aggies slammed the door on Elston Turner’s 40-point outing. In less than five minutes Kentucky’s 4-point lead turned into a 12-point hole. In the blink of an eye, the battle of attrition against Mr. Turner was over.

What happened in these late game breakdowns? In crunch time, what is this team doing to allow a team a second wind like we saw at Vanderbilt? With their backs against the wall, this team folded and failed like it did against Texas A&M. So close, yet so far. What went wrong?

Kentucky’s three-point shooting in the last two outings has been atrocious. In total the Cats are 9-for-35 for just 26 percent. And during the late-game runs by Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, the Cats were a combined 0-for-6 from behind the arc. Now you might say, “Of course they missed those shots — that’s why the other team went on a big run in the first place.” And you are right; but it’s the shot selection that may be the issue.

Against the Aggies 18-2 run, Kentucky missed five shots total, and three of them were from the perimeter. Against Vanderbilt’s 18-0 run, Kentucky missed eleven shots total and did not earn a trip to the free throw line once. What this says is Kentucky strays away from its bread and butter in late game scenarios: slashing and getting to the rim. Settling for mid- to long-range jumpers primarily against a zone defense has exposed this serious weakness in the Cats offense.

At Vanderbilt, Ryan Harrow, Julius Mays, and Kyle Wiltjer each missed a three-pointer that helped the Commodores close the 16-point gap. But even more detrimental were the missed jumpers (5) and layups (3). Archie Goodwin missed a pair, Willie Cauley-Stein missed a pair, Harrow missed a pair, and Nerlens Noel and Wiltjer each missed one. All of these shots and no free throws.

Not that this team is money at the charity stripe. They are far from it. But the modus operandi of John Calipari basketball has long been to attack the basket. They did not do that against Vanderbilt.

They failed to do that against Texas A&M as well. During the five minute spurt, Kentucky missed five shots, three of which were 3’s. Meanwhile the Aggies fired up just the same ratio, but connected on each one. After tossing in a few free throws, you have a 16-point swing in the matter of minutes. Rather than attack the basket and do what Kentucky teams do best, they fired up shots from long range.

Calipari has no magic wand, we know. And surely he recognizes more faults in his team and has a better plan to fix the shooting woes than are outlined here. There is a lot this team needs to improve on. This is merely a summary to raise awareness, for you the fan. Keep an eye on the late-game shot selection Kentucky has this evening against Tennessee. With a sizeable lead, will the Cats become complacent and back off? Or down to the wire, will desperation set in too early and they begin hoisting bad shot from the perimeter?

Article written by Stuart Hammer

B.S. Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kentucky. @StuartHammerKSR

13 Comments for Cats Achilles’ heel: late-game runs

  1. need more fiber
    5:14 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    And pepto

  2. MemphisCat
    5:24 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    Hope the CATS turn it around tonight, we need something to snap us out of the funk.

  3. Swifty
    5:40 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    Late game runs??? Let’s just start scoring on a consitant bases and then lets worry about the runs. Go Cats!!! Beat those low down dirty vols!!!

  4. STEVE!
    5:49 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    Shot selection throughout the game hasn’t been that great. Goodwin, Harrow, and Mayes combined for 36 shots against A&M, compared to 18 by Nerlens, Alex, and WCS, and they only had 7 assists among them. That won’t win many games with these guards. Cal needs to find more ways to get the ball to the front line other than the guards throwing up wild shots and hoping the big guys get an ofensive rebound.

  5. BoomKentucky
    5:50 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    U all should check into EA sports NCAA football cover. UK didn’t get into the next round even though they had more fan votes than these teams that did. Notre Dame, Navy, Ohio St, Georgia, Florida, Florida St, Tennesse, LSU, and Texas. I guess they already had the teams picked and the fan vote doesn’t count.

  6. BoomKentucky
    5:55 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    i guess you had to vote on a side poll for UK and not on the main fan vote page.

  7. Boyd Crowder
    5:58 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    Get Nerlens some rest. He was gassed with 5 minutes to go Sat. They need to giive him a break in the secound half.

  8. Dear UL and IU fans, We are national champions; you are not. The end.
    5:59 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    I just saw that people are saying Poythress will go 7th in the draft. I like the guy and all guys who commit to UK, but that’s crazy.

  9. Biglaw Dawgin'
    5:59 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    All good points in this article. Other team is on a run? Take it to the hoop. Can’t hit a jumper? Take it to the hoop. Hopefully they pick this up and act on it from here on.

  10. Mike
    6:04 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    My how the mighty have fallen. We were preseason #3 and best case now looks like they have us getting into the tourney as a 10th seed. I am in Nashville and Belmont (local) and MTSU (local as well) both have higher R.P.I. than we do. I think we are somewhere in the 60’s. Who wudda thunk it for a #1 recruiting class. Do we want to accurately call this team the UNTEACHABLES or the UNREACHABLES? It has been a very nauseating feeling the last week or so with our play and same feeling going into tonight. I wouldn’t be surprised if Stokes doesn’t light us up for 15-20 and that we get beat! Cal has done very little to prepare any kind of bench either.

  11. Chicago Chris
    6:09 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    “best case now looks like they have us getting into the tourney as a 10th seed.” – well, that’s silly. Best case? Five losses would probably be a #1 or #2 seed.

    As for reality, where’s the leader will will instill some pride? Darius Miller, Jorts, Patterson? There isn’t one. There’s nobody with any real influence that was at UK last year or will be there next. All most of these guys would have is personal pride and that may not be enough. I guess we’ll see.

  12. Jatt Mones
    6:39 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    I love that this “Stuart Hammer” lays it all at the feet of our offense. This has to be the worst Calipari defensive team ever. We complain about Wiltjer’s defense but not a single one of them other than Nerlens is any good at D.

  13. duh
    6:49 pm January 15, 2013 Permalink

    It’s the zone. I didn’t even get to see the A&M game but I’m betting they were running a 2-3 when they went up. We need one more coach – someone that know how to play against the zone…