By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
In the year 2000 Warner Brothers released a film titled “The Perfect Storm”. The movie was about a fishing vessel – The Andrea Gail – that encountered two weather fronts and a hurricane that all converged together to form a massive storm system in the Atlantic Ocean that created conditions on the ocean that the fishing boat could not overcome. The boat eventually was hit by a rogue wave that caused the Andrea Gail to capsize and sink. All hands were lost.
On Saturday night in the Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team ran into a “perfect storm”. Playing on the road in front of a hostile crowd desperate for a win UK ran into a killer combination of poor effort and execution by the players, questionable coaching by the coaching staff and equally questionable officiating by the game officials. That trio of circumstances combined to capsize the UK team in the second half. When PJ Washington left the game with cramps and Wenyen Gabriel fouled out with twelve minutes left in the second half it became pretty evident that the ship was sinking.
The worst part of the storm that hit the Wildcats – poor effort and execution – reared its ugly head as soon as the players stepped on to the floor to start the second half. The Volunteers – with their backs against the proverbial wall – came out attacking UK on every offensive and defensive possession. Instead of stepping up to meet the assault the Wildcats took several steps back through turnovers and allowed Tennessee to climb right back into the game. For the game UK was out rebounded 37 to 30 – poor effort – and UT had 23 assists to Kentucky’s 14 – poor execution.
The second part of the “perfect storm” saw the coaching staff continue to play a zone defense for a good portion of the second half even when it was evident that the UK players could not execute the defense correctly. They continually allowed Tennessee to pass the ball into the high post with no resistance from either of the two players at the top of the zone or the post player covering the middle of the zone. Once the ball reached the high post it only took two quick passes in the interior to allow a UT player an open dunk shot. Repeatedly the Wildcat players were caught flat-footed with hands at their sides as the Volunteers moved the ball with ease into the teeth of the UK zone. Even though the team was short-handed from fouls and injuries it was evident that on this night with this effort and execution a 2-3 zone defense was not the answer.
Last but not least was the accuracy of the calls – or lack of calls – made by the SEC officiating crew. The old adage goes that referees have never cost a team a win or a loss. While that may be true they do tremendously influence the level of play on the floor based on their ability or inability to make correct calls quickly and consistently throughout the game. In the SEC the home team generally has a decided advantage in shooting free throws and that home team advantage was evident again in Knoxville. Eight points of the winning eleven point margin can be attributed to the extra free throws. Did the calls of the officials win the game for UT? Absolutely not. Did they help to influence the outcome? The box score seems to say yes.
After watching the UK ship sink in the second half what does it all mean? Does this loss mean the Wildcats can’t compete at a high level and win the SEC? After all, this UT team had just lost two in a row and dropped a home game to Auburn by ten.
What it means is that every game in the SEC will be a war. It means that these Wildcats will have to learn how to give forty minutes of effort and execution if they hope to avoid encountering any other “perfect storm” nights during the rest of the games on the SEC schedule. It means that some – if not all – of the players will have to dedicate themselves to learning how to execute better as a team when the crowd is hostile, the calls aren’t going your way and the outside shots aren’t dropping. Fourteen assists on twenty-four made field goals is not the recipe for winning on the road if you are going to get out rebounded by seven and allow the other team to shoot more free throws.
This loss is not the end of the world – and could be a good lesson learned – but it does point to more potential heartache on the road if players don’t decide that they are willing to play their role, execute their part of the game plan and most importantly buy into the idea that winning is more important than anything else that occurs on the basketball court.
The next time a “perfect storm” arises – either on the road or at home – let’s hope the players and coaches will remember what caused the ship to sink in Knoxville and have answers available for what it will take to ride out the storm the next time.