REMEMBER JOE LUNARDI IS HERE TOMORROW AT 9:30 AM FOR A LIVE BLOG CHAT
I thought it was embarrassing to lose at home to Gardner Webb…..the loss at home to San Diego was troubling…..getting slaughtered at Vanderbilt was cringe-inducing….getting blitzed by VMI was frustrating….but tonight was the worst loss in the post-probation era for Kentucky basketball. That was my initial thought as I saw Georgia and its lame-duck “middle school principal” coach celebrate after the game, but after a couple hours of reflection, my conviction is only more resolute. Considering the time (Senior Day), the opponent (worst in the SEC, Georgia) and the context (an attempt to make an 18th straight NCAA Tournament), no loss has been more embarrassing and crippling than this one. There are no excuses for the performance tonight and I cant imagine anyone believing this performance is anything but a negative reflection on the current coaching staff. Five quick thoughts on the game…..
(1): I have watched a lot of basketball and I have questioned a lot of coaching moves. But I have never seen a more bizarre decision than the mass substitution to start the second half. For reasons that only he knows, Gillispie took out four of his five starters (leaving Porter) and put in Harrellson, Galloway, Miller and Slone into the game, with the contest close and momentum very much up in the air. Over the course of two minutes, that lineup took a 2 point lead and turned it into an 8 point deficit from which UK never came back. In so doing, Georgia got the confidence it needed to pull through to the end and UK found itself dug deep in a hole that could end its NCAA Tournament chances. Lots of people take up for and try to understand Billy Gillispie’s mind games…..this is one that is incomprehensible to me.
(2): Some perspective on this loss…..this is only Kentucky’s 6th loss ever on Senior Day…..Georgia came into the game having not won ONE ROAD GAME all season…..UK lost is sixth home game in a season for the SECOND TIME EVER (including Sutton’s probation path year)…..Kentucky allowed Georgia to score more points in the FIRST HALF (47) than they did the entire game in Athens (45)….they have a lame duck coach who inherited players that werent his own and arent talented (there goes that excuse…..the Cats have suffered their 10th home loss in two years…..for perspective, Pitino had 7 in eight years and Tubby 19 in ten years….if this loss knocks Kentucky out of the tournament, it will end the nation’s second longest consecutive tournament streak and may very well lead to UNC passing Kentucky on the all time wins list this season. So it was a bad game.
(3): Couple of good things….Michael Porter had a career high 15 points and generally played pretty well. He did airball the last three and miss a layup (his layup problems caused a friend of mine to suggest that if he had been picked for the halftime $10,000 for a made layup contest by Windstream, their money would have been safe), but generally played well. Patrick Patterson was one rebound and two blocks from a triple double, an historical feat only done once in UK history. Ramon Harris was singled out by Gillispie after the game for his play and had a solid game as well. Not enough by any of these guys to get the victory, but good games nonetheless.
(4): One of the things we have learned over the last couple of weeks is that when Jodie Meeks is cold, UK cant win. Because UK is without a number of scorers and runs very few offensive sets, Jodie’s performance is crucial for any UK victory. Tonight Jodie’s shots werent falling and he wasnt made an integral part of the proceedings. Gillispie only played him 28 minutes, substituting for him a number of times, including (bizarrely) with four minutes to go before the tv timeout. Meeks hit a couple of big threes, but missed a free throw down the stretch and simply didnt have the game he had wanted. It is becoming increasingly clear that without that game, UK cant win.
(5): After the game, Gillispie had another odd interview encounter, this time with Tom Leach. HE told Leach that he “would not turn on his guys” in response to a question about the team’s gameplan. He then proceeded to talk about Stevenson and Harrellson’s mistakes, while insisting that “we just got whipped.” While I like the idea of taking up for his players, I must admit that this entire act is growing tiresome. Gillispie threw Stevenson under the bus on Saturday, backed it up and ran over him again…..now that may or may not have been a good idea, but for Gillispie to act self-righteous and criticize a question by saying he wont criticize his players is simply incorrect. He does so in the media all the time….taking out his frustrations on interviewers (whether Leach, Jeanine Edwards or anyone else) simply makes him and the University look bad.
Tonight was most certainly a low point for post-probation UK basketball. This team now is very unlikely to make the tournament (although we will ask Joe Lunardi for sure at our chat tomorrow….9:15 AM) and team and fan morale may be at an all-time low for that period. The play of the team has gotten worse as the year has gone on and no one can say that as a whole the group has not regressed. At this point there can be no rational explanation that the problem is solely one of “talent”, as Kentucky today lost to a team of leftovers and academic walk-ons on their home court for Senior night. At this point, there is only one explanation for the continuing worsening play….and it falls directly on the feet of the head coach. I dont believe in rash decision and I certainly dont think that it is the time to abandon ship….
but I do think UK hasnt had a team this poorly coached in my lifetime. Something has to change.