Remember the name Trevor Gaskins…..it should stick with you for some time. Admit it…when Gaskins put that last three point shot in the air, you thought the season was over….I know I certainly did. That moment, after Perry Stevenson’s rebound was knocked out of his hand, straight out to a wide open Ole Miss shooter, is one that will likely not make the end of the season highlight reel. However had that three gone in, a heavy spell would have been cast, not just on the game and the likely loss, but the rest of the season, and to some extent the entire careers of Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford. For if Kentucky had lost tonight, their chances at an NCAA Tournament berth would have likely disappeared up in smoke. Most of the good will and some might even say affection, that had developed for Kentucky’s talented but inconsistent Senior duo would have been gone quicker than the 23 point lead slipped from the Cats’ grasp. In an instant, Trevor Gaskins controlled the destiny not only of the Kentucky team, but of many of the individuals who compose it….and luckily for all of us, he missed.
The fact that we were even in such a situation bordered on the bizarre. With Kentucky up 23 points in the first half and cruising, it looked as if the Cats were FINALLY going to get their easy game. As Pat Forde pointed out earlier this week, this is a team with a 10-3 record in the SEC…yet if you add up all the points for all SEC games, they are STILL being outscored by their opponents (thanks of course to the Vandy game). The Cats only win close games and for a moment, it looked like that reality would be broken in Rupp Arena. But then slowly, after holding the Rebels to 8 points for 18 minutes, they chipped away. Chris Warren was brilliant, draining threes with the reckless abandon you see from a Freshman who doesnt know the consequences of a big game. Dewayne Curtis controlled the paint, pushing Patrick Patterson around in a way that we really havent seen all season. The Rebels made their run, cut it to four and it looked like once again, game on.
But then something strange happened….the Cats pulled back out to a lead of 14, and the patrons at the place where I was watching the game all breathed a collective sigh of relief. But we quickly learned that with this team, the game is never over. With the Cats up 13, a defining moment in the game (and almost the season) happened….UK got a steal and Crawford took a wide open three….make it and the Cats are up 16 and its over….he missed, Ole Miss got the rebound, made two quick passes and hit a three of their own….and all of a sudden the game is down to 10 and Ole Miss believes. Basketball is often about little stretchs like that, where one play goes right here and one wrong there, and then you have a different outcome. The Rebels took that momentum, made a furious run that saw multiple threes, offensive rebounds and boneheaded Kentucky decisions. Throw in two uncharacteristic free throw misses by Smooth, and the Cats were set up to lose the game.
Which brings me back to the Gaskins three and its monumental importance. One has had the feeling all year that the Cats good fortune had to at some point run out. Patrick Patterson after the game noted that Perry Stevenson had been telling the team that they had to focus because “the luck is going to run out.” And when the ball left Gaskins’ hands and stayed in the air for approximately 2 hours, the thought entered my mind that the close games had caught up with the Cats. All the long scoring draughts, the occasional brain freezes and the tendency to let teams hang around was going to culminate in a most painful loss right in the middle of Rupp Arena. All across the Big Blue Nation, Gaskins’ three led to a collective gasp that nearly stopped time. Had he made it, the Cats are out of the NCAA Tournament. They are a 3 seed (at best) in the SEC Tournament and find themselves with a nearly impossible road to the title. Ramel and Joe take the blame from the fans for the loss and the hand-wringing over the season hits a fever pitch. The mood changes from cautiously optimistic to frustrated and scapegoats are found around every corner. A Gaskins make and the Nation is split and sides are once again chosen. It simply would not have been good.
But then Gaskins missed. And like that, all is forgotten. The 10th win of the SEC season has been reached (first time in three years). A potential SEC Championship game is set up in Knoxville on Sunday. Kentucky’s bubble hopes are not burst. Ramel and Joe go from scapegoats to gritty Senior leaders. And none of that had anything to do with the actions of one Kentucky player or coach. His name will likely be forgotten by UK fans everywhere, probably very soon. But we all owe a debt of gratitude to Trevor Gaskins (pictured below)….his miss means we live to fight another day…..