So after a night of reflection and the calming of passions, I have come to a realization. The loss yesterday was as bad as I originally thought it was. Now by bad, I dont mean painful. Kentucky has had extremely painful losses and ones with infinitely more meaning than last night’s pasting by Gardner-Webb. But I cannot think of a time that Kentucky has lost to a worst team in a worse way than what happened last night in Rupp Arena. For perspective, Gardner-Webb won nine games last year…..in the Atlantic Sun….a conference rated among the bottom 4 in all of America. Here, according to Joe Lunardi, are the Running Bulldogs’ best wins according to RPI Rating over the last five seasons:
– 2002-03: 4-24 (2-14 conference), Appalachian State, No. 162
– 2003-04: 7-20 (6-14 conference), Mercer, No. 208
– 2004-05: 16-12 (13-7 conference), at Central Florida, No. 108
– 2005-06: 17-12 (13-7 conference), at Minnesota, No. 83
– 2006-07: 8-21 (7-11 conference), Lipscomb, No. 179
Now we can add Kentucky to that list as well. What bothers me about the loss is not that it happened, although losing to the worst team that I can remember Kentucky falling to is bad enough. But what really bothers is me is just how bad a loss it was. Kentucky was never in the game. After the first few minutes, they were never closer than 7 and never, at any point, looked like the best team on the court. Also, this wasnt a case of a group of pesky guys getting hot and hitting ridiculous shots…..many, if not most, of the points came from layups…..often WIDE OPEN. The performance was pitiful and as a good friend of mine said at work today…..”I have never seen the Cats play worse.”
Already the hand-wringing has started and most of the comments generally fall into the “is it Tubby or Billy Clyde’s fault?” Ultimately this is a pointless endeavor as Tubby is gone and Billy Clyde, who presumably knows more about this loss than all of us, has taken full responsibility on himself. The talent at UK is not where it should be, but my guess is that ever player on scholarship at Kentucky (even the Member) would not have considered going to Gardner-Webb. Whatever the talent problem at UK, the players at UK are far more talented than the Gardner-Webb counterparts, and not that much more inexperienced. Billy Clyde knows that losing to Gardner-Webb is unacceptable and no one wants to remedy that situation more than he does, and he will (and those who say we “lost on purpose”….no one who is as competitive as Gillispie loses a game on purpose….especially with the large amount of UK fans relying on a win in order to make trips to New York). I was surprised at Gillispie’s insistence on the “full practice” on gameday the night after a game and film session, but it has worked for Billy Clyde in the past and seems to be his style. But I was even more surprised that the team continued to play pressure defense with the goal of denying passes, even after being backdoored to death on play after play. When you have a young team that does not understand the help defense that is MANDATORY when you play with such intense defensive pressure, you may have to change strategies when teams are exploiting holes in the system. That didnt happen yesterday and I am still not sure as to why.
In the midst of all the bickering that will occur today (this is a day to be doing sports talk radio), we should try and put this game in perspective. From a national perspective, this is likely to be THE upset of the year.. A team in the low 200s to high 300s of the RPI beats Kentucky on their home floor by 16 and dominates throughout. If it werent Kentucky and was UNC, Louisville, Michigan St, etc, we would be thrilled and talk about its importance….so we should recognize that it is now coming our way. In addition, I havent done a complete check, but I would guess that this is potentially the worst team to win in Rupp ever…..SW Louisiana may be close, but when you consider that was a triple OT game with only 8 scholarship players, this seems a bit more dramatic. When you consider margin of victory and quality of opponent, I simply cant think of a worse modern loss…..and if there are some, there arent many.
We all hope and I will presume, that this is the bottom and we will move up. I am fully confident that Billy Clyde will right the ship and that much better times are ahead. But sometimes to appreciate the highs, you have to feel the pain of the lows…..and folks, in terms of a one-game scenario, it doesnt get much lower.