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By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — He had a towel draped over his head and tears streaming down both cheeks as he proclaimed he was the reason Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament hopes may have disappeared.
Sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow wasn’t the only reason UK lost 64-48 to Vanderbilt here Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but he certainly had a game to forget.
He was 2-for-15 from the field — and almost all the shots were in the paint. He had four turnovers and just one assist — and often got beat on defense, too.
“This loss is just on me,” said Harrow. “I am the reason we lost. There’s nothing else to say. If I play well, we usually win. That’s how it always is. If I don’t play well, we lose. This loss is on me.”
Harrow wasn’t the only reason UK lost. The Commodores made 23 of 46 shots from the floor, including 8-for-17 from 3-point range. They had just five turnovers. They were more aggressive, tougher and smarter than UK from start to finish even though Bridgestone Arena was filled with UK fans — remember Vandy coach Kevin Stallings predicting Thursday night that the UK fans would not intimidate his players. Kentucky also missed 34 of 52 shots as Julius Mays was 2-for-8 and Willie Cauley-Stein 2-for-6.
“It was a combination of a team that played well and had every shot bounce in for them and do what they had to do and played great basketball game. They won seven out of their last right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They’re playing great right now, and it was us laying an egg. It was a combination, which is why the score was what it was.”
Calipari didn’t mention Harrow by name in his brief postgame press conference. But he didn’t shy away from letting everyone know how he felt about his point guard’s play.
“Let me go back to, we laid an egg, but let me say this, Vanderbilt is playing great basketball right now. They had more energy than us,” Calipari said. “I told my team for three days, the hardest thing in a tournament play is to have a bye, have a team that’s playing well, play a game and then come up against you.
“So, it was a combination of everything. I’ll tell you. I don’t want to take anything away from Vandy. They played great. We laid a egg. We had one guy go 2-for-15, miss 12 lay-ups.”
That guy, of course, was Harrow.
He’s been a source of frustration for Calipari and UK fans all season. He was not John Wall, Brandon Knight or Marquis Teague, Calipari’s point guards the previous three years. He was not a great finisher at the rim or a tough defender. One had to wonder about his leadership, too, after he took a three-week hiatus early in the season for personal reasons.
Sure, he had some terrific games. But he also had many where he never seemed to get the team into offense or do the little things that Calipari wanted.
“I missed all those shots I was supposed to make,” Harrow said. “This loss is on me. We had practiced hard. Coach got us ready and I just did not show up. I got the basket and got good looks and just missed shots. It was my fault. I should have played better than I played.”
How could that happen in a game UK needed to win to solidify a NCAA tourney bid? Now the Cats likely are headed for the NIT barring a collapse by several other teams.
“I don’t know (why I did not show up). I just take full responsibility,” Harrow said.
Kentucky led only once at 6-5. By halftime, Vanderbilt led 37-23. Early in the second half it was 47-26 before a 10-0 UK surge cut the deficit to 48-27. Trailing 53-39, UK had Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein both miss the front end of the bonus, Harrow drive and miss in traffic, and Goodwin miss a 3. Vandy finally recovered to push the lead to 58-41 and the game was over.
“Since I didn’t start out well (1-for-9 in the first half with four turnovers), it trickled down to everybody,” Harrow said. “I apologize.”
Harrow said Kentucky still wanted to get in the NCAA tourney because “if we play well we can play with anybody.” Really? Since Nerlens Noel went down, UK has not won a game away from Rupp Arena. The Cats are 4-4 without him and all the road losses have been decisive and one reason has been ineffective guard play like what UK got in this game.
“I just messed it up,” Harrow said.
Teammates tried to defend him — as they should have. It was not a one-man loss even if Harrow’s play would have made it near impossible for UK to win.
“Not one guy can put this on himself,” Kyle Wiltjer, who had 10 points and three rebounds, said. “It’s a team effort. We just did not show up. We did not play as a team. It is not one player’s fault.”
Freshman Archie Goodwin, who led UK with 12 points, said it was “everybody’s fault” for the loss and season-low point total.
“You will never hear me say it was on one person. We all did it,” Goodwin said. “We’ve all had games like Ryan had. It was not just his fault.”
However, bottom line is that UK did “lay an egg” starting with the point guard and lost a game it knew it had to win to salvage a NCAA bid.