It was deja vu all over again in Fayetteville as the Cats dropped yet another road game in which they were ahead going into the final television timeout, running their record in those contests to 0-7 and 1-6 on the road in the SEC. Our friend and foe, Mike Rutherford of the Card Chronicle, labeled this team “The Unclutchables”, which hits too painfully close. There were a number of positives coming out of a seeemingly complete win against South Carolina and now the Cats are faced with as much uncertainty as at any point this season heading into three games against the SEC East’s best teams.
A few notes on what we saw Wednesday night….
– As the heat starts to turn up a bit on Calipari in the immediate aftermath of the latest road disappointment, the primary question surrounds his decision to call a timeout with 16 seconds left in the overtime period. It wasn’t necessarily that it was odd to call break play at that point, though you could argue the Cats would have been at an advantage if they pushed it against the Razorbacks, it’s that he has been so steadfast in not calling a timeout in that situation all season, including at the end of regulation. It’s possible that Calipari finally reached a point of admission that his team is not capable of making a winning play on the fly and wanted to draw something up, but after he has so steadfastly defended his desire to not call timeouts in that situation, it was odd.
– And if it was the case that Calipari was not comfortable in his team being able to set up the play on their own and make a winning basket, the lack of execution on the final play after he drew it up for them is exponentially more disappointing. DeAndre Liggins never took his eyes off of Brandon Knight when inbounding, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering Knight is the team’s most surefire playmaker, but Josh Harrellson slipped his screen and was as wide open as he could be underneath the basket with 1.8 seconds left and the Cats down one. But Liggins never saw him and never even tried to look for anyone not named Brandon Knight. It was yet another mental mistake by a veteran player and summed up the game perfectly. Kentucky beat themselves the entire game. Doing it on the final play only seemed fitting.
– At one point early in the second half, it looked like Kentucky might put the Razorbacks away as the Cats rallied from down one point to up six points with 15 minutes to go. The momentum clearly was on their side. Then their upperclassmen did everything they could to throw it away. Josh Harrellson fouled Rotnei Clarke on a three. Clarke hits all three and the Cats are only up three. Then Clarke stole the ball from Harrellson and drew a foul on Liggins, who then got another technical foul for arguing. Clarke hit three of four free throws. Game tied. Brandon Knight misses a shot and Marshawn Powell makes a three and is fouled by Darius Miller. Arkansas goes up four. In a matter of 90 seconds, Kentucky’s vetern players essentially gave away 10 points and the lead. That’s what we call a meltdown.
– For all the struggles of UK’s veteran guys, it was another terrible performance by one of their star freshmen. Terrence Jones struggled throughout the game with getting his shot off inside and putting a body on the Razorbacks, who are one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference. Jones did finish with 8 rebounds and four blocks and played aggressively in stretches, demanding the ball on the block when Kentucky needed buckets, but couldn’t really put it all together. He’s talented enough to put stats on the board, but it’s the little fundamental things that are making him ineffective in a lot of games. He still can’t go right. He gets caught standing around on rebounds. He forces bad shots. Wednesday night was not one of his finer games and, even worse, it’s probably too late for much to change with his game. He’s a very talented player. I just wonder if he’s just a bad fit for this team.
– Another curious decision from Cal was the saddling of Doron Lamb to the bench for the final nine minutes of the regulation and all of overtime. Calipari said he was unhappy with the freshman shooting guard’s effort and his defense was lacking, but when you’re falling on the road, putting your best shooter on the bench is a gamble. Granted, Lamb’s defense made it extremely difficult to keep him in the game, but it might be a little late in the season and the bench is too thin to be teaching lessons with a little time on the pine.
– Brandon Knight logged a career-high 26 points, but the takeaway is that he missed five shots that would have won the game. He remains the team’s best player and the guy they can turn to when they need to get points. He just didn’t deliver Wednesday. His assist-to-turnover ratio (5:3) was better than his road average and he wasn’t awful against Arkansas, but he just didn’t have it at the end of the game.
– For all of the emphasis on the end of the game and how Kentucky couldn’t execute, it’s just as important to note how awful the start was for the Cats. Offensively, they came out jacking up threes – something we’ve said all year could become an achilles heel as it evolved into more of a primary option than a luxury – and played atrocious defense, allowing Arkansas to get easy layups and shoot open threes. The Cats started the game down 17-9 with Arkansas missing four open threes and three putbacks. It could have been much, much worse.
– If there was a bright spot, it was Darius Miller confidence late in the game and his contributions for a team that wasn’t getting anything from Doron Lamb or DeAndre Liggins. After shooting the lights out from downtown against South Carolina, Miller was 0-4 from downtown when he got an open look with two minutes left in regulation and the Cats down three. Miller knocked the shot down to tie the game and had Arkansas not gotten an offensive rebound and putback with 33 seconds left, could have been the biggest shot of the game.
– Yes, the officiating sucked. No doubt about it. But that’s life – especially on the road. Good teams play through it and find a way to win. There are plenty of reasons why Kentucky lost this game that have nothing to do with the guys in the striped shirts.
– After it appeared that Kentucky was in the driver’s seat and feeling very good about landing the #2 seed from the East in the SEC Tournament, they are now one full game beind Vanderbilt and must win-out down the stretch in order to secure that spot. With two ranked teams and a road contest still on tap, they certainly have their work cut out for them.
– Finally, I told you Eddie Sutton was a jinx. F’ing Eddie Sutton, man.
That’s it for now. Make sure you tune in to Kentucky Sports Radio at 10am on Talk Radio 1080 for more discussion and group mourning. It should be an interesting day. See you in a few…