As I perused my early morning sports sites today, I came upon this blog post by John Clay in which he agrees with a reader that said he hadn’t “seen two such poorly coached possessions at the end of a game in a long, long time.” Those two possessions, in which Downey got to take the last shot and UK ran the bizarre “play for the charge” play on offense were difficult to watch and when combined with the Archie take to the basket play previous and the difficulty inbounding the ball for UK, made a lot of fans shake their heads. I watched all four of those plays from press row and did wonder what exactly the game plan had been. The Cats were up three with 35 seconds to go at home, and generally that should be the recipe for a victory, but it didnt happen. Clay suggests a lot falls on Gillispie’s shoulders….and I generally agree.
Throughout the season, there have been three parts of Gillispie’s general coaching philosophy that have been difficult for me to understand….and two rendered their heads at the end of the South Carolina game. First, I still dont know why Kentucky runs so few designed sets and plays on offense, particularly when inbounding the basketball. When the Cats are facing a full court press, their offense basically consists of running towards the passer and hoping that they are open….that is part of the reason that Perry Stevenson had the ball to be fouled at the end….Meeks and Porter were both trapped and no play had been designed. And then on the last play, the initial drawn play simply had all four men sprinting down court…..an odd play that one former UK player told me looked like “a play used in youth basketball.” Then after the timeout, they tried the “flop and get a charge call” play that was used last year to no success in the SEC Tournament against Georgia. That play, which puts referees on the spot to call a foul in the last three seconds, may have been successful in the past….but I havent seen it. So what Kentucky did end up with was a Meeks half court shot….a heave that was a very low percentage option.
On defense, similar problems arose. Rather than trap Downey at the end, the Cats allowed him to dribble down the clock with no pressure, guaranteeing that South Carolina’s best player would get to take the final shot. As Clay points out, whether it went in or not, Coach Darrin Horn had to be pleased…..he was able to have his best player take a ten foot jumper…..most coaches will take that result. Why didnt the Cats trap and force someone else to beat them? Similarly on the play before, how did Archie get a virtual uncontested drive to the basket to cut the game to one? All four of these plays if executed differently, would have given the Cats the win….but in all four, Coach Darrin Horn got the result he wanted, while Kentucky was left with bad options or execution.
Now none of that is to say that Billy Gillispie is a bad coach or a bad guys with Xs and Os. But watching that game on Saturday, particularly at the end, you had to wonder if he shows the flexibility and adaptability in his style to win close contests such as these. Billy Gillispie’s defense first philosophy is likely to create a lot of close games at the end. Last year, Kentucky had two of the best closers in recent years, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, to hit the big shot down the stretch. Plays at the end were usually simply clear outs for these two young men to do their thing….and it usually worked. But now its a different day…..Bradley is no longer the point guard and Meeks does not get as many clear out opportunities under this season’s offense.
The Cats have been in five games this year that have been within 6 points at the end….they are 1-4 in those contests. Those end of game situations are sure to come up again down the stretch and very well could decide the Cats’ fate over the coming weeks. As John Clay first pointed out earlier today, heres hoping they are handled better than what we saw on Saturday.