In the big picture, Kentucky’s loss at Tennessee last Saturday means very little. The Wildcats will most likely still get a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and win their 44th Southeastern Conference championship. Heck, both might well still happen even if the Cats lose at Georgia Wednesday night, although nobody in the Big Blue nation wants to test that theory.
It’s easy to point to shooting as the reason for UK’s downfall, with season lows in overall field goal percentage and three-point percentage. But you pin this loss on defense. Tennessee shot 48 percent from the field after the previous six UK opponents failed to break 40 percent. And the reason the Vols shot such a high percentage is because they shot so many layups and other close-in shots.
Look at both Kentucky losses this season and you can conclude the Wildcats were beaten by things over which they have control–offensive rebounding by South Carolina and giving Tennessee too many easy shots.
After the win over South Carolina last Thursday, coach Calipari talked about this time of year being “the dog days” of the season. So it’s not surprising that a team this young, playing on less than fresh legs and on the road, might relax its focus a little. What they need to learn is that if you relax that focus a little in the NCAA Tournament and maybe you run into a team that shoots three’s better than Tennessee, you could end up with a very disappointing end to a very promising season.
It speaks to Kentucky’s collective passion for winning that it erased a 19-point deficit over a span of about 12 minutes while making only one three-point shot. That’s going to serve this team well in the postseason but the games are going to be hard enough without spotting your opponent a 19-point second-half lead.
One of the more encouraging signs in defeat for the Cats was the play of Darius Miller down the stretch. He took over the game for a brief stretch, something I can’t recall him doing in that situation before, and that could be a very significant development if it continues.
The 1948 NCAA championship team is the only one of Kentucky’s title squads that did not lose a game on February 14 or later. Now, let’s see this particular UK team responds to its late-season setback.
For more of Tom’s Big Blue coverage, go to: http://tomleachky.com/