In what is like to be a game that will become the turning point of the season one way or the other, the Cats were dreadful in losing to Mississippi State 66-57. Kentucky fell down 8-0 to start the game and never were able to recapture the lead, as the Bulldogs dominated Kentucky in virtually every facet of the game. For much of the proceedings, Kentucky looked like a small fragment of the team that had played Louisville, Vanderbilt and Tennessee so well just a few short weeks ago. Mississippi State hit long three after long three from all sides of the court and Kentucky was once again dominated inside, this time by the shot blocking of Jarvis Varnado and the rest of Mississippi State. It is the third SEC loss in a row and puts the season in a new perspective….while just ten days or so ago, the question was what high seed could the Cats pull, now the question is whether the NCAA Tournament is still assured for this Kentucky team. A few notes….
— The big story coming out of the game is the TCP report that Patrick Patterson stated after the game that the locker room was a “verbal free-for-all” following the contest. According to the TCP report, Patterson said that all the players let each other have it after the game and the coaches stood by and allowed all grievances to be aired out. There is no word on what was said, but it is clear that the frustration that was felt by the fans was also felt by the players as well. I am also told that there was a similar incident that occurred earlier in the day at practice, with some verbal airing of feelings by a few members of the team prior to the game. It is thus clear that tensions are high around the program and the future is a bit unclear. This could be the moment when things reunite and turn for the better, or it could disintegrate and go the other way. With a seven day wait, we have a long time to see for certain.
— The story of this game has been spun by some to be the long threes hit by Mississippi State and that was important, but more crucial to me is the fact that the Cats could only put up 48 points in the first 38 minutes of play. That total is not enough to beat virtually anyone and showcased the slow bleed of the UK team on offense over the past few games. It looked as if virtually no plays were run for Jodie Meeks, who spent most of the game attempting to take people off the dribble and create on his own. Patrick Patterson was at times tripled teamed, causing Michael Porter and Darius Miller to pass up or miss open threes that were literally given to them by Rick Stansbury and the Bulldog team. It was as inept a showing on the offensive end as I can remember, and was highlighted by the (once again) domination around the rim by the Mississippi State shot blockers.
— I admit to being utterly baffled by Kentucky’s gameplan tonight and the lack of adjustments to the flow of the game. For reasons that are beyond me, Meeks was not involved in the play selection and the gameplan looked to be to force the ball to Patterson and wait for open shooters. However it is clear that Mississippi State gameplanned for this exact strategy and no adjustments took place. On the defensive end, Kentucky had some success early clogging the lanes and stopping the Mississippi State inside presence, but never adjusted to their switched reliance on three point shooting and gave open look after open look to the hot shooting team. Watching the game, it was hard to figure out what Kentucky was trying to accomplish on either end of the floor and the lack of adjustments was staggering.
— There was some good news in the continued improved play of Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins. Both played relatively well, although the lack of confidence by Miller in shooting threes has to be fixed if the team is to succeed. Liggins may have had his most complete game to date, playing decent defense and handling the ball well. His shooting was still only so-so, but that may just be a weakness that one has to expect.
— I see a lot of blame on message boards and the like pushed at the Porter/Harris duo. Leaving aside the Razor injury, it bears mentioning that these guys’ minutes have been decreasing game by game. Harris for instance has played only 13 minutes a game in the three losses, and Porter played little in the second half tonight. Both guys have definitely struggled, but the problem is much broader. One thing is clear though….these guys should not play together due to their offensive liabilities….play Porter with Miller and Harris with Liggins. No need for both to be attached to each other’s hip.
I will be quite honest that tonight was as frustrating as any game I can remember in the last few years. The problem to me was not the loss as Mississippi State is not a bad team. But we are in early February and I havent seen any improvement from most of the players on the team. They look as disjointed as they did in early December and much worse than they looked in early January…..and it is not clear why. There are those who solely blame the coach, some blame the lack of talent and some just blame the world, but all in all, the frustration can be spread around a number of sources. The fact is that this team is a rudderless ship…..they play without any sense of direction. I dont question their effort or their heart (and I have grown tired of laments about their supposed lack of “toughness”), but I do question their direction. I have no idea what will happen on any particular possession and it is unclear to me what the gameplan has been, especially for the last two contests.
Unlike a lot of fans, I can take losing. It is part of the game and the randomness of basketball causes some losses. But tonight was not random. Tonight was a thorough demolition of a team on its home floor. That signals a greater problem and one that has to be fixed very quickly. Hopefully the “verbal free-for-all” or some other alteration will change the pattern that has emerged over the last three games. We shall see….but for now, color me more than a bit frustrated.
Tomorrow is Signing Day…..it will be pleasant and football focused. Join Rob and the rest of us as we celebrate a great day to get tonight off of our collective minds……