Kentucky's late execution in close games has been a disaster

On3 imageby:Jack Pilgrim02/10/24

The 16-7 overall record is a tough look for a Kentucky team that entered the season with sky-high expectations and inarguably one of the most deadly offenses in college basketball. They’re entertaining and fun, but the losses are piling up and not really slowing down — four of six and five of nine dating back to January 13.

How the Cats are picking up those losses, though, hurts even worse. Why? Five of the team’s seven losses overall saw this group in position to tie or win at the end of regulation, execution unfortunately a disaster in every tight finish.

It started with the Kansas loss in Chicago, Reed Sheppard forcing a contested heave with eight seconds to go, Kentucky down 87-84. Airball, ballgame.

Then came the Texas A&M loss in College Station, Rob Dillingham passing out of a double-team to DJ Wagner, who muffed the ball right into a defender’s lap in a tie game with 11 seconds to go. After a pair of free throws put the Cats down two, Dillingham’s deep 3-point heave rimmed out to win the game with Sheppard fortunately there for the foul on the putback to send it to OT. Lost that one by five in the extra period.

How about the Florida home loss — remember the foul-up-three disaster? The Cats still had three seconds after that mess, Antonio Reeves getting a full head of steam to midcourt with plenty of time to get a shot off, only to dribble through a pair of defenders to turn the ball over. He falls to the floor as the game goes to overtime. No dice there, either.

And then comes Saturday evening, an ATO opportunity with 13 seconds to go. This time, it was Sheppard short-arming a lob attempt to Adou Thiero, Kentucky going for the alley-oop to tie it in the final seconds. Instead, Gonzaga’s Ben Gregg ripped it out of the air to all but seal it.

Mark Few then poured salt in Kentucky’s wound by fouling up three with four seconds left, a plan that ultimately closed out the win.


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