That was nothing short of an embarrassment. In spite of this team’s struggles, I didn’t even acknowledge it as a possibility that Kentucky could lose that game until the clock ticked below four minutes and Kentucky had barely chipped into Georgia’s lead.
It certainly was possible, and it happened. Kentucky lost a game they simply had to have, 90-85, to a Georgia team that had two SEC wins coming in.
The spotlight is always on the coach of Kentucky basketball, even more so when the team is perched precariously on the bubble for the second consecutive year. Now, I wouldn’t say the Kentucky fan base will be shining a spotlight on Billy Gillispie as much as they will be melting him down.
The words “fire and brimstone” come to mind.
To give an indication, threads on Kentucky Sports Report’s premium board include “So does Georgia have more talent than us???”, “For sale-two books of SEC tickets”, “This is where Billy gets some heat”, “Worst display of basketball period”, “UK fans violent?” and my personal favorite, “Splain this lineup”.
Tonight’s game was a crossroads of a few different paths that you do not want to cross as the coach of UK. First, it was a loss to the established worst team in the conference. This is a team that cannot score the ball with any consistency whatsoever.
Yeah, they shot the ball well, better than you could possibly expect, but if you don’t stick a hand in the faces of players with Division I scholarships, they’re going to hit shots.
Second, it was a UK loss on Senior Day. We saw last year just how special Senior Day can be. Two much-revered seniors going out in hard fought game against an arch-rival, picking up a quality win: Senior Day at its finest.
Tonight was the polar opposite. UK was saying goodbye to one senior whose career was marked by disappointment more than achievement, playing against a bad team that it had destroyed earlier in the season, failing to show up, and suffering just about the worst loss an SEC team could.
Third, it moved UK from bubble territory to need-to-win-the-SEC-Tournament territory. In recent years, as the UK program has been somewhat mediocre, the fan base has clung to a very impressive streak of 17 consecutive years receiving a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
That loss means that UK will probably need to put together a highly unlikely four game win streak in Tampa to keep the greater streak intact.
I’ll be honest, I’m not up for much game analysis or many X’s and O’s, but I do have to point out the ever popular Gillispie subbing patterns. It started with the way Jodie Meeks was handled in the first half. Why does he all of a sudden need to spend eight minutes on the bench in a half?
Is he not leading the SEC in minutes per game? Have you not always praised his motor no matter the circumstances? Are you trying to send a message to the SEC’s leading scorer?
While that decision was troublesome, I think the point where the game was lost was when Gillispie decided a line change substitution would be a good idea, removing Meeks, Ramon Harris, Patrick Patterson, and Perry Stevenson for Landon Slone, Kevin Galloway, Darius Miller, and Josh Harrellson. Only Michael Porter stayed on the floor.
The only explanation for this was that Gillispie was trying to motivate the guys he removed, particularly Meeks and Patterson. I think that’s really dumb, but if you’re going to do it, take them out for 30 seconds, maybe a minute.
Instead, he left that terrible lineup on the floor for 2:31...a total of 151 seconds. That’s not a joke. He actually did that in a game that UK desperately needed. They weren’t playing Longwood, and they weren’t playing Appalachian State.
Before this brilliant move, UK had a 53-51 lead. When the failed experiment had run its course, Billy Gillispie had spotted Georgia a 61-53 lead. Just as importantly, he gave Georgia the confidence to win the game.
The first few minutes in a potential upset is always vital. In this time, the underdog either convinces itself it can compete or the favorite shows why it’s the favorite. In this crucial time, Gillispie put in a lineup that would probably fight to be in the middle of the pack in the OVC if they played for EKU.
UK was always going to make a run in the game (UK’s legit lineup got to within one in about two minutes after Gillispie let them go back in), but Gillispie’s decision at the beginning of the half basically enabled Georgia to withstand it.
It’s hard enough for a team to beat its opponent. It’s pretty much impossible to win when it has to overcome its opponent and its coach. I’ve said it before, but a coach’s job is to put players in a position to succeed, and in many ways, I think Gillispie has failed on that account this year.
In the past I’ve tried to defend Billy Gillispie from questions and criticism, but I can’t do that after a loss like this. There are questions that Billy Gillispie has to answer after this game and in the offseason, and, frankly, “we got whipped” or “that’s really a bad question” is not a sufficient answer.
Really the only thing that could possibly cheer me up right now is Cubs baseball, so thank God Cubs-Sox is on WGN right now.
Time for the grades.
Turnovers/Point guard play: B (last game: B-)
Scoring the ball wasn’t the problem tonight. Michael Porter and Kevin Galloway did a decent job of setting up the offense today, but the defense was just so bad. I will say that there was an awful lot of standing around on offense when Kentucky needed to get moving in the last five minutes.
Key Stat: Assist to turnover ratio of 14:13; 4:6 for Porter, Liggins, and Galloway (last game: 18:15 for Porter, Liggins, and Galloway)
Rebounding: F (last game B+)
How do you get outrebounded 38-27 and allow 13 offensive rebounds in a game which your opponent shoots 50 percent and 11-of-16 from three?
Key Stat: Defensive rebounding percentage (defensive rebounds/opponent FG missed + opponent FT missed x100) of 53.1 percent (last game: 70.6 percent)
Getting the ball to Patterson: C- (last game: A)
Patterson did not get nearly enough touches tonight, and it was a major step backward after a good job in that area against LSU.
Key Stat: FGA+FTA-offensive rebounds by Patterson of 11 (last game: 20)
Secondary scoring: A- (last game: C-)
UK had two guys in double figures besides Meeks (23) and Patterson (14). Michael Porter had a career-high 15 points on five threes, Ramon Harris chipped in with 10 points, Darius Miller had nine, and Stevenson had eight.
Key Stat: Percentage of points scored by Meeks and Patterson of 43.5 percent (last game: 74.3 percent)