photo by Mark Cornelison
Sunday hurt. It wasnt because I thought the Cats deserved to win (they probably didnt) or that they have more talent than the Cards (they probably dont) or that they were somehow robbed by fate (although they may have been). It is that after 40 minutes in Freedom Hall, the Cats lost a game in which they put it all on the table.
Kentucky made mistakes in execution in their 74-71 loss. They had some plays that made the buzzer go off on the "Low Basketball IQ" alarm. And the talent on the floor in crucial moments probably wasnt enough to get a victory. BUT, they played inspired basketball and as Pitino noted after the game, the five main contributors all knew their role and executed it to the best of their abilities. In my view that is all you can ask and when you see that for 40 minutes, especially with a comeback like we saw.....Damn you want them to get that victory. Some thoughts....
(1) The Last Shot Was Just One of Those Things
If I had told you prior to the game that the key player on UL's team for their victory would be Edgar Sosa and that for them to win in regulation, he would have to hit a 28 footer at the end of the game, you probably would have taken it. I know I would have. Edgar Sosa did what Edgar Sosa does....he took a silly shot and sometimes it goes in and more often it does not. This time it did. Michael Porter didnt do anything wrong....yeah he could have possibly been a little closer on him, but he had to worry about the better percentage play, the dribble drive to the basket, and so he gave him the rainbow shot. It went in. But Kentucky gave them the low percentage play....and in sports, that is often the best you can do. When Sosa plays like that and hits shots like that, you shake his hand and say, "see you next time."
(2) Patrick Patterson is Amazing
When I spoke with Greg Anthony of CBS a few weeks ago, he said to me after the interview, "I hope folks realize how good Patrick Patterson is down there. He is special." No truer words have been spoken. Forget for a second that he leads the NATION in Field Goal percentage. Instead watch the video of the middle ten minutes of the second half. With Meeks cold and the rest of UK's offense stagnant, Patterson was a man-child. Getting position on every play, scoring or getting to the line every time he touched the ball. He is the best post big man at UK since Bowie/Turpin and I often think people dont fully internalize it. Patterson is one of those guys that your grandfather loves for his hustle and you love for his dominant attitude and style. Tonight was a tour-de-force performance. Savor it.
(3) Jodie Meeks Can Make You Shake Your Head
Jodie is like Cactus Jack, he scores "Bang, Bang, Bang." Eight points in a minute in the first half and seven in 25 seconds in the second half. People love Stephon Curry for his ability to make shots that shake your head. Well Jodie just needs the attention, because he isnt far behind. He still has things to work on his game and six turnovers, five of which were uncontested, is way too many. But offensively he is special and that comeback at the end had me jumping out of my seat.
(4) For my money, this was Billy Gillispie's Best Coached Game
Yes the technical was mistimed and was a momentum killer. Clyde would say the same thing I am sure. But otherwise, he had a spotless game. He started with his trademark pressure and UK predictably got beat badly in the first four minutes, giving up 15 points. But then he adjusted. He played to UL's weaknesses, dialing down the pressure and playing to his teams' strenghts. He inserted Ramon Harris, which dialed down T-Will's effectiveness. He gave Earl Clark free reign to shoot and he responded by throwing up brick after brick. He went with the five guys who knew how to handle the moment better than any and watched as they led the team to the precipice of an unbelievable victory. Tennessee on the road last year was my previous pick for his best coached game....now this one passes it. And the next time, I bet such a game ends in a win.
(5) Rick Pitino is Still Absurd
His postgame blabbering about how he told Edgar Sosa to transfer to test his toughness prior to the game and then he responded with a victory was vomit-inducing. And I still think that with the amount of talent on this team, Pitino's coaching has jumped the shark a bit. But, here are his thoughts on UK's team and he was very complimentary,
"Very rarely do you see that at the college game, because of egos that people understand their role. The Kentucky kids know exactly where their bread is buttered. (Michael) Porter knows what to do and exactly how to get people the ball. They go high-low and they know they to get (Patrick) Patterson the ball. They take incredibly high percentage shots. We wanted to get in our press and we thought our press could work against them. We had to shoot a good percentage. That was the key. We did shoot a good percentage. I think Kentucky knows their roles. You won't find two better players than (Jodie) Meeks and Patterson. If the other players don't understand their role, then they are not able to be as good as they are. The players are great on defense and they rebound the ball really well. They are extremely well coached. I think they are a hell of a basketball team and I would really be shocked if they are not in the thick of the SEC race."
(6) Michael Porter is One Mentally Tough Guy
Not since the days of Saul Smith has a player faced what Michael Porter faced earlier this year....constant criticism and nearly universal scorn from the UK fanbase. But the last few games have seen him overcome and excel and tonight was another great performance from the young man. If I had told you that Porter has ZERO turnovers against UL's press (the only starter to do so), would you have believed me. Well he did, and he managed the game so well that I was openly cheering for him to be reinserted in the game when he left. He hit two crucial three pointers and important moments in the game and he knew his role throughout. He isnt great and he never will be. But he can be inspiring and my admiration for the kid continues to grow.
(7) Great Night for Perry Stevenson
Foul trouble early, then an offensive spark late. Mix in great defense throughout and it was another solid performance from the lanky big man. UK HAS to find a third scorer to beat great teams. I dont know who that will be, but Stevenson would be the best choice. A good jumper from 15 feet out, and he even can nail a three every now and then. More than probably any other player, Stevenson is forgotten when debating the team and its rotation. He shouldnt be....he may be the key to the team hitting the next level.
(8) I Sure Would Like to See More Kevin Galloway
I have learned that for better or worse, questioning Gillispie on minutes simply is fruitless. He will play who he is going to play and there isnt anything anyone can do about it. But I just dont get the Galloway situation. His length, passing ability and defensive potential make him a player that this team could certainly use. Yet he plays four minutes and is used in ways I dont understand. I like Landon Slone and the last two games were great stories. But if Gillispie knew he wouldnt use him in this game (and he had to have), then why not give Galloway more run to get him ready for UL. Ultimately minutes are the coach's call and I do defer. But the way Galloway is used does mystify me.
(9) The New Guys Continue to Struggle
I think most of us thought that by this time of the season, the crunch time lineup would be different. But at this point, Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins, Kevin Galloway and Josh Harrellson (who had a poor game) simply havent forced themselves into the serious playing time discussion. All of these guys, with the possible exception of Galloway have really shown little to no improvement since the season began. That is a bit disheartening. While Jorts has shown the ability to make plays against lesser teams and Liggins has flashes of brilliance, the mistakes of the group are too numerous for them to be consistent contributors. For this team to become potentially very good, they HAVE to get more from these guys. It remains to be seen if it will happen.
(10) KUDOS to the Core 5 From Tonight
This is the reality from tonight's game. Five guys made it happen for UK. The lineup of Patterson, Meeks, Stevenson, Harris and Porter were the core members of what was a very good performance for the Cats. Patterson and Meeks provided the points, Stevenson hit key shots, Porter was solid on ball-handling and Harris provided the closest thing to a lock-down defender UK has on the team. While Patterson and Meeks are stars, the other three guys get criticism for not being talented enough for UK or not playing as well as some would hope. But there is a reason that Coach Clyde sticks with this group and these three young men, playing each 25 minutes or more. They know the system, they work hard and they give 100% effort on EVERY play. They make mistakes....Porter gets beat on defense, Stevenson doesnt always block out, Harris cant dribble....but they do little things people dont appreciate. Porter is always in the right spot, Stevenson makes up for other's defensive mistakes with great rotation and Harris can nearly take one player off the court defensively (today T-Will and Jerry Smith at times). Fans dont always see that, Gillispie does. These three guys get crap from the fans on a day in and day out basis and hear calls for players who play behind them on the bench. But tonight, in a huge game that UK nearly pulled out for a win for the ages, it was these five that provided nearly all of the important moments. There is no doubt that there are more talented players on the roster than some of these five. But to take their spot, the other players must do the things they do as an afterthought....learn the offense and defense, be in the right spot, give 100% effort and play with a modicum of basketball IQ. No matter what happens, these guys give it their all and that is why they are the core unit of a basketball team that played very well this evening.
There is actually a lot of news out there, so check back Monday afternoon for some notes. For now, just hate the Cards and give a kudos to the Cats.