All the ingredients were in place. Rupp Arena was rocking, the Cats had made a 26-8 run to start the second half and for the first time all season, a lineup was on the floor that seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. It was looking like Rupp Arena would once again be a happy place in which the Cats would lock up a tournament spot and tell the SEC that the Big Blue is not dead yet. And then something else happened…..LSU reversed course, the Cats played more inconsistently and LSU put a severe crater on UK’s road to an 18th straight NCAA bid. As has been the case so often this year, the Cats started poorly, found a team ready to hit big shots down the stretch and caught enough bad breaks to lose a game that they easily should have won. Kentucky ended the day with its 10th loss and more importantly, its 5th loss on the Rupp Arena floor that for so long has been an initmidating presence to outside marauders. Now the Cats face two games to end the season that they must win and a date in Gainesville next Saturday that could be for all of UK’s postseason marbles. The arena felt deflated when the game ended today….and it will be up to Clyde and the boys to make the last week a successful one.
— Lets start with the positive. To start the second half, UK finally found a lineup that seemed to be the ingredient to success. For the first time I can remember this season, Gillispie came out of halftime with an adjusted roster on the floor that represented a drastic overhaul of how the team would approach the game. Kevin Galloway, Meeks, Harris, Miller and Patterson began the second half down 36-28 and eight minutes later, they found themselves up 54-44. The new lineup had all the makings of a classic Billy Gillispie successful team….long, athletic and ready to pressure on defense, Kentucky completely took LSU off guard and played pretty basketball on both ends. Most importantly, with that personnel in the game, UK could pressure LSU’s two scorers. Razor moved from Thorton to Mitchell, holding the player who had scored 14 in the first half to zero points in that stretch. Miller played admirably on Thorton and Patterson continued to dominate on his single coverage defense. A GREAT run in the game and a lineup that I think (hope) will become the base for the rest of the year.
— At the end of that eight minute run came the decision that Gillispie said afterward cost UK the game. With ten minutes to go, Harris came off the floor grabbing his chest in a “Sanford and Son” like grasp that worried all of those around the bench. Razor said he wanted to stay in, but Gillispie made a decision to substitute for him. Afterwards, Gillispie said that decision to put one guy in was the difference in the game. Billy did not however say who that player was, and many presumed he was talking about Stewart. However at that break, Perry Stevenson came in for Razor and stayed in the game for the next five minutes. During that time, the 10 point lead turned into a 3 point deficit….all with Harris on the bench and Stevenson in. My guess is that this was the player Gillispie was referring to….but it was quite a surprise to see Coach point to that decision as the turning point in the game.
— However to give Gillispie credit, Harris’s departure was a turning point. His ability to guard Mitchell allowed Miller to take Thorton. When Harris left, Stevenson guarded Mitchell….he was able to score again and Thorton was picked up by Meeks….allowing Thorton a break from Miller and Harris’s length. During that time, Thorton scored eight points and LSU took a huge deficit and turned it into a lead. Those first ten minutes were brilliant defensively for UK and one definitely wishes that the Cats had been able to keep that lineup together…..I agree with Gillispie that if that happened, the result may have been different.
— A mistake cost UK on the final play once again. According to Clyde after the game, all players (except Patterson) were told to switch all screens on the pick and roll. Galloway felt the screen, but did not switch, instead following his man. When AJ switched, that left Mitchell open and he hit the three pointer. It was a mistake by Galloway (at least according to Kevin and Gillispie), but one did wonder why Stewart was in the game. AJ replaced Harris for that last play, and it did seem an odd time to have a guy in who rarely plays in such circumstances. But either way mistakes happen, and it cost UK late.
— A great performance by Patrick Patterson, who was brilliant while being played in single coverage by LSU. The problem once again however was that UK simply didnt get him the ball enough down the stretch. Wiht six minutes to go, Patrick had 24 points….he touched the ball only two times in the last six minutes. That simply cant happen for UK to win.
— Another cold shooting night for Jodie Meeks, who was 1-8 from three point land in Rupp. Jodie struggled on defense, but still was able to score a great deal by taking the ball to the basket. Still, when Jodie shoots poorly from outside, it is almost impossible for UK to beat a good team.
— A final word about lineups. While I am a defender of Michael Porter often, there are simply certain teams that he cannot guard. This was one of them. The great play by the quicker lineup in the second half will hopefully signal a change in how UK matches up with quicker and more athletic teams. Tonight was a good start.
— FINALLY, Kevin Galloway was allowed to play point guard in a key game. Much debate has been had here and in other realms about whether Porter or Liggins should play the position. But never has the third party candidate, Kevin Galloway, really been given a chance to shine at THAT (as opposed to the three spot) position. Tonight he did and showed what he can bring to the table for the position….height, good passing ability, long athleticism on defense and more ball control than DeAndre Liggins. Great performance tonight and hopefully a sign of things to come.
— I dont blame officials for losses. But for at least the tenth game this season, the SEC officiating was putrid and should be an embrassment for the league. Sometimes I have felt that UK has benefited from bad calls, sometimes it has hurt them (tonight was more on the hurt side), but it is always immensely frustrating. The lack of consistency and ability from the referees is shameful. It is by far the worst I have ever seen and tonight was potentially the best example of the league’s serious deficiencies in this area.
Tough night and a tough loss. Some good things in the second half, but still a backbreaker loss. Other bubble teams are losing as well however. If you beat Florida in Gainesville, the Cats are in. If they lose, then a run in the SEC Tournament is likely in order. The Cats played themselves onto the bubble this week. Next week is their turn to get off of it…..