For a lot of fans, this week has been frustrating. Some of that is because we, as the fans of the greatest program on Earth, have gotten a bit spoiled this year and a team that we thought was just going to be potentially very good, has found itself 18-0. But unreasonable expectations cant explain all of the frustration, as the Cats’ inability to finish games has become a growing problem for the team. In a number of games this season (North Carolina, UCONN, Louisville, Florida, Auburn, etc) Kentucky has gotten out to a double-digit lead and seemed to be cruising towards a victory, only to find themselves locked in a last minute showdown, thanks to the inability to give the knockout punch. A number of reasons have been formulated for this difficulty ranging from inexperience of Kentucky’s ball handlers to the ubiquitous “AAU mentality” that Calipari so often mentions. But for me, the reason is much simpler. In the times when a game can be put away, or a big momentum changing basket is needed, the Cats arent finding Patrick Patterson.
Its no secret that this team is uber-talented. If you watch John Wall and dont think that he is in the conversation with the all-time UK greats, then you are probably an old fogy who got your teeth cut on basketball in short shorts. But with that talent comes some young recklessness, which can be good (as it also means no fear). But when a game is at a breaking point, utilizing the veteran that has been through the battles is needed. How many games have we seen where an opposing player gets hot from outside (Answer: Every game) and then after hitting a couple of big shots, one of the guards comes down the court, turns the ball over and another basket is scored, making the game too close for comfort? Part of this is because of the natural desire of Wall and Bledsoe to create for the team, something they do as well as any players in America. But part of it is because in these situations, they almost play “too fast”, causing a small rock rolling down the hill to turn into a boulder coming down the mountain. Those turnovers become crucial and make a comfortable game, a nailbiter.
Enter Patrick Patterson. Because of his ability to make a number of moves on the block and the ability of Boogie to potentially procure an offside rebound, finding Patterson on the post in these possessions can stop another team’s big run. Case in point, the game in Gainesville. After trailing the whole game, Florida runs off seven straight to tie it up…Wall gives Patterson the ball in the post, he makes a spin move, scores and gets fouled and Florida never comes close again. It was the perfect set up to end the run and silence the crowd. Unfortunately it has not occurred enough. Against Auburn, Patterson had the first half of his CAREER in which he took no shots. Not surprisingly it was, as one media member commented to me after the game, the worst half of basketball UK has played this season. When Pat is not a part of the offense, the youth of the team is shown and too many mistakes occur.
There is no doubt that the talent level of the Freshmen on the team is immense. Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe can do things with the basketball that are almost unbelievable to watch and their impact on the program has exceeded everyone’s expectations. But that doesnt mean we can forget the contributions of the man they call “Black Kool-Aid.” For three years, he has been the rock of the program, keeping it above water and producing effort and performance night in and night out, amidst unbelievable distractions on all ends. He has been through the battles and knows what wearing the UK uniform means more than any other player in recent memory. When the game is on the line, his calming presence is the perfect compliment to Wall’s mind-blowing drives and Cousins’ controlling of the glass.
This team has the potential to win it all. I am not sure I believed that at the beginning of the year, but I certainly believe it now. But to do it, Patterson cant be forgotten. Making him once again an intregal part of the offense, especially in crunch time and momentum-shifting moments, is crucial in order for UK to reach its (lofty) goals.