Before we encounter the rare situation of hanging our hopes for positivity on the football team Wednesday, let's finally shut the door on a surprisingly bad night against Ole Miss. A few notes...
- Before we jump into what went right and went wrong Tuesday night, Oscar Combs raised an interesting question after the game that is probably the most important thing to take forward. Where does this team go from here?
Will they use this game - easily their worst of the season - as the turning point or will we look back and deem this the game that marked the beginning of the end? Two years ago, the Cats stumbled in Oxford and then lost seven of their next ten games and missed the tournament. This team seems better equipped to avoid that type of major demise, but the schedule is unquestionably harder from here on out and they seem to not be playing at the level they were earlier in the season. Limping to the finish with a few more losses seems completely feasible unless several things get corrected quickly. I expect copies of "Bounce Back" in everyone's locker tomorrow.
- Without question, the most disappointing part of the loss was the complete sucking feeling that UK's three veteran players
contributed. All week, Calipari talked about how this team would have to be carried by upperclassmen. In explaining it, he said that means they had to be the ones making the tough plays at the end, executing and playing smart. On Tuesday, that simply wasn't the case. And there was enough blame to spread around:
1. Darius Miller - Miller's will be blasted over his decision to pass up a wide open three with 21 seconds left and the Cats up one, but it was symbolic of an evening that seemed to lack the aggressiveness the defined his five-game streak of double-digit points. Calipari did not reduce his minutes and Darius played 31 total. But, he did little with them, taking only four shots, grabbing one rebound and turning the ball over four times.
2. DeAndre Liggins- Liggins' performance was not much better. He was also a guilty party on the shot clock violation on the possesion prior to the game-winner as he received Miller's pass and had no idea how much time was left. Liggins struggled with foul trouble and had trouble keeping Chris Warren in front of him on defense. Even worse, he shot no free throws and did not seem to be attacking the rim like he so often does.
3. Josh Harrellson - While Harrellson extended his streak of games without double-digit points to eight and his streak of games without double-digit rebounds to four, he was exposed on defense often early in the game as Ole Miss was able to isolate him at the top of the key and drive past him. He did better in guarding the pick and roll at the end of the game - something he's been okay at doing for most of the season - but he was also guilty in not providing the veteran presence that Calipari begged to be there.
- Along with questions facing this team's ability to play on the road, there is now an even larger concern that they are not able to win close basketball games
. Four of their five losses are now contests that were close at the end and the Cats could not find a way to close them out. And while they used free throws down the stretch to beat South Carolina and Georgia, the allowed both teams to creep back into the game when they should have shut the door. Despite Calipari's insistence that a six-man rotation is nothing to fret about, you have to wonder if fatigue is what is catching up with the Cats in these contests and if they simply don't have the energy to close them out. Early in the season, "fatigue" was used to describe a single game. We're at a point now, though, where it becomes a potentially lingering feeling that will plague every game.
- With yet another loss to a team they had no business losing to (and this one being the worst), you can now start to wonder and worry about Kentucky's seeding for the NCAA Tournament
. John Calipari filled the non-conference schedule with some big name programs and the Cats have some sexy wins to put on their resume. But, there is now a legitimate argument that this team is not the same as the one that earned those victories. A strong finish against the meat of the SEC could go a long way in erasing these startling stumbles, but the Cats clearly have some work to do. If the tournament started today, they'd most likely be looking at a four or five seed. And despite Cal's optimism that they can be a team no one wants to play, they simply aren't that team right now.
- After executin so well and keeping their turnovers low in the past few games, Kentucky gave the ball away 18 times
against Ole Miss. It was the most turnovers the Cats have committed since the Louisville game last season - a game that they won. This, of course, again further proves that this team simply cannot rely on just being more talented than their opponents game-in and game-out. They have to execute. It's nothing new and it's probably stupid to even write it again. But, the numbers don't lie.
- In case Coach Cal is reading this, the closest Waffle House to Florida's campus
is on Archer Road. Don't mess with what works. I'll even buy.
That's it for now. Stick around as we get things going for Signing Day bright and early
. We'll have a running diary of all the commitments as they come in and, in case you forgot, Lamar Dawson will announce his decision at 9am. Matt and Zach will be around at 10am to talk you through the Ole Miss game again, but let's hope Joker can give us a reason to smile. In the meantime, take one last look at what Calipari called "the backbreaker".
See you in a few...