You just knew Devan Downey was going to hit that shot. It seemed like UK had tried to guard with pretty much everybody but Dwight Perry in the second half of UK’s 78-77 heartbreaking loss to South Carolina, but it really didn’t matter. Jodie Meeks was the last to get a crack at him, but as I watched Downey dribble the clock down to under 10 seconds, I just had a feeling of impending doom.
He called for a screen at the top of the key, took Jodie into the left side of the lane, and created just enough space to get off his little mini fade away from about 10 feet, and Kentucky was 3.2 seconds away from defeat. After consecutive timeouts by Billy Gillispie, Jodie Meeks got up a half court heave that got just close enough to get your hopes up for a millisecond, but it just didn’t go down.
Honestly, it never should have gotten to that point. With 14:36 left, UK had a 54-44 lead with the crowd going crazy (by the way, it was a good crowd all day once Gillispie was t’d up in the first half). Patterson was getting the ball, Jodie was hitting his shots, then, UK couldn’t close out a possession with a defensive rebound. Mike Holmes offensive rebound led to a Zam Frederick 3 (the man barely missed the first 27 minutes of the game, on his way to 24 points), and another Zam Fredrick 3 and 7 points by Downey later, UK was down 59-58. 10 point leads in Rupp cannot disappear that quickly, that’s not acceptable. Give South Carolina credit for taking a punch and hitting back even harder, but UK cannot allow that to happen.
So, that’s consecutive losses now in games that I expected UK to win. It’s one thing to lose on the road, but it’s another thing entirely to lose in Rupp, a first for Billy Gillispie in conference play. Losses like that make you reevaluate what you thought after a 5-0 start in SEC play. What do we have on our hands in this Kentucky team? Was that start fool’s gold? Did Jodie Meeks give us the false hope of the inside track to the SEC title with his out of this work play? Or are these two games nothing more than blips, missed opportunities on the way to contention in the SEC and a March run?
I think it’s probably somewhere in between. Kentucky has two All American caliber players, and having Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson alone is going to win games. Kentucky has not held serve in the race for the SEC title, but it’s still VERY much up for grabs.
With that said, South Carolina is a tough team, but the best team in a conference doesn’t lose a game like that at home coming off of a loss. I do think our hopes were a bit inflated by unsustainable play by Jodie Meeks. This is a team with holes, and I think they have been on full display this week. One of those holes is interior muscle. Offensive rebounds and second chance points killed UK again today. Perry Stevenson can block shots with the best of them, but he has a tendency to get out of rebounding position, and his size allows opposing players to easily capitalize on his lack of position.
Another hole is defensive quickness. Today, another small backcourt composed of Zam Frederick (6’0) and Devan Downey (5’9) ran circles around UK’s perimeter defense. UK has backcourt size, and plenty of it, but it’s been constantly exposed by the quickness of many opposing guards. Maybe a zone would help some of those issues, but we all know that’s not going to happen, and besides, would UK’s poor defensive rebounding get worse in a zone?
The last of those holes, and for my money, the most glaring, is the lack of a point guard who knows the system he is supposed to run, and has all the tools to execute it. The hole has always been there, but when you see UK’s situation juxtaposed with Devan Downey, it’s even more evident. UK, unlike last year, really has not been thoroughly tested in close games. Last year, with Ramel Bradley, you had a guy who would demand the ball, sustain his dribble, and hit his free throws. In the close and late situations this year, how many times have we seen the ball end up in Ramon Harris’ hands or Perry Stevenson’s hands, just like it did when Stevenson was fouled and missed two free throws that would have prevented South Carolina from taking the lead with a 2 on their last possession. Perry is a solid foul shooter, but there is great value in having a point guard that always finds a way to get the ball, and wants to be taking those shots.
Things are so bad that, at one point, Gillispie had Darius Miller bringing the ball up the court. That really just sealed things for me that UK is not going to resolve its issues at the point this season. Liggins is talented, but his decision making is just so bad that I don’t think he’ll earn Gillispie’s full trust. Porter makes really good passes at times, but his flaws are clear.
Before I bum everybody out too much about this team, let’s grade out the ‘Cats. Also, a new feature. I’ve associated a key stat with each category, and I will be tracking UK’s performance in that key stat the rest of the season:
Turnovers/Point guard play: C-
After that last rant, did you really expect a good grade here? The team as a whole, had 21 turnovers, and anyone who thought UK’s turnover woes had subsided was rudely awakened yet again. There were some awful decisions by pretty much everybody.
Key Stat-Assist/TO ratio: 16:21, 6:7 by Liggins/Porter
Not really much better than the Mississippi game. UK did win on the boards (40-35), but gave up more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds, including 8 offensive rebounds by Sam Muldow alone. Early in this season, I pointed to this category as one that UK had a chance to be excellent in, due to the size and athleticism of the team, but it’s quickly turning into a problem area instead. Especially considering how poor of a rebounding team South Carolina has been all year.
Key Stat-Defensive rebounding percentage (defensive rebounds/opponent FG missed + opponent FT missed x100): (31/44+8)x100=59.6%
Getting the ball to Patterson: A
Coming off of the Ole Miss loss, getting the ball to Patterson had to be a priority, and it was. Patterson got to the foul line on UK’s first possession, on his way to a game high 28 points.
Key Stat-FGA+FTA-offensive rebounds by Patterson: 16+8-1=23
Secondary scoring: B
No one really stepped up to be the official third scorer today, but a bunch of guys did chip in. Stevenson and Liggins both had 8, Harrellson had 5, and Miller had 4. This is the best way to take care of this category going forward in my opinion (and Coach Gillispie’s too).
Key Stat-Percentage of points scored by Meeks and Patterson: 20+28/77 x 100=62.3%