The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 6 days, 2 hours, 46 minutes

Larry on Twitter

John Robic

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

James Young dribbles against South Carolina (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

James Young dribbles against South Carolina (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

By LARRY VAUGHT

With Kentucky fans reeling more from UK’s consecutive losses than the players seemed to be after Saturday’s loss at South Carolina, it’s easy to wonder what is going to happen the next few weeks.

Kentucky freshman guard Aaron Harrison insisted the Cats could still write a “great story” if they would just play the way they know they can — something they have not done in most big games and why they have eight losses already, including five in Southeastern Conference play.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was ejected midway of the second half of Saturday’s loss after getting his second technical foul and it was obvious way before then that he was frustrated with more than the officiating. His sideline antics and facial expressions — and not just in this game — made it clear UK’s lack of focus, emotion, intensity, defense, offensive execution and more were bothering him.

Has he lost control of this team? Only Calipari and his players can answer that.

Has this team been a disappointment? Absolutely, and both Calipari and his players should agree with that.

Has UK been the nation’s most disappointing team the last two years? One certainly could make that case after the NIT flame-out last year following Nerlens’ Noel injury and the expectations on this team with one of the nation’s all-time best recruiting classes and No. 1 preseason ranking.

Last year the Cats had no hopes by mid-February of being a NCAA title contender. This year they did — or at least they did until the losses to Arkansas and South Carolina exposed many, many issues. But guess what? The Wildcats were 11-5 in SEC play at this time a year ago, the same mark this team has.

So what is going on?

The players have sensed Calipari’s frustration, and even understand it when he is screaming at them. Or freshman James Young says they do.

“It was just him coaching. He was just trying to talk to us,” Young said Saturday. “We just weren’t listening sometimes, so he had to scream a little bit just to make us listen. We’ve just got to start listening when he says something the first time and just keep executing.”

Start listening? It’s the first of March, less than three weeks to NCAA Tournament time, and his team has not learned to listen. Admire Young’s honesty, but let that help explain Calipari’s frustration and perhaps show that he never had control of this team.

Should Calipari have to be screaming at players this late in the season?

“Definitely not. It’s just, I guess, we lose focus, like I’ve been saying the whole season. Concentration,” Young said.

Lack of concentration? Again, that’s a pretty important ingredient for winning teams. And it’s not  just Young. He could well have been speaking for almost every teammate because the majority of the players have had the same issue.

Even Calipari’s ejection didn’t seem to bother — or inspire — the Wildcats even though they scored 28 points in 10 1/2 minutes after he was booted compared to 39 points in the first 29 1/2 minutes of play.

“It was just another obstacle that we had to overcome and we just — I mean, it was a tough game and it was just an obstacle that we just huddled and said, ‘We just gotta do what we need to do to get back in this game,’” freshman Aaron Harrison said.

Kentucky did get back in the game, but defensive and rebounding breakdowns enabled South Carolina to win. But it was UK’s poor shooting — the Cats had one 12 1/2 minute stretch without a made field goal and another stretch of almost five minutes without a basket — that doomed UK.

It was UK’s third straight game struggling to make shots.

“Sure it’s an issue if you don’t make shots,” UK assistant John Robic said. “I mean, the reason … We weren’t going to get any perimeter shots in the first half. We couldn’t get open. We were starting our offense near half court. They went zone, and we did a great job driving the ball and knocked down some 3’s in the second half and made a game of it.”

Robic also ruled out any lingering impact from the Arkansas loss as impacting the Cats at South Carolina.

“No. That was addressed Friday. We had a good practice Friday and went at it today,” Robic said after the loss. “Sort of a good thing sometimes when you have a tough game at home and you can redeem yourself hopefully. Obviously we didn’t today, but wasn’t a whole lot of time to dwell on it.”

But the players do dwell on missed shots — and they have had a lot to dwell on in recent games.

“I don’t think it affects it as much. Probably put our heads down a couple times, but we just tried to keep going play to play, just try to go to the next play like Coach says. Just, ‘Next,’ and try not to let shots affect us and just get back on D (defense),” Young said.

But something obviously keeps affecting this team that has gone from a team many were predicting no one would want to play in March to a team no one now might mind playing in March.

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

By LARRY VAUGHT

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Despite a frantic comeback that almost worked, there’s no easy way to explain Kentucky’s 72-67 loss to lowly South Carolina here Saturday.

This was a game the Cats desperately needed to win after Thursday’s home loss to overtime — and came out acting like the game meant nothing. The Cats were sluggish — like they have been to start games way too often all season — and unorganized. They lacked the passion of the home team and made mental mistakes, missed shots and got outhustled.

Maybe it was just more than Kentucky coach John Calipari could take because midway of the second half, he got his second technical foul and was ejected. Even assistant coach Orlando Antigua had been slapped with a technical before that.

After the Calipari technical and free throws, UK was down 55-39 with 10 minutes, 25 seconds left to a team that had three SEC wins. But then the unexpected happen. With assistant John Robic calling the shots, UK came to life and sliced the lead to 68-67 and had the ball back down 70-67 with 20 seconds left. However, Alex Poythress — who was 6-for-20 from 3-point range this season — missed an open 3 and that sealed the loss that no UK coach, player or fan could have seen coming.

“I told him to shoot that thing. He was wide open. It was on line,” Robic said. “We had to get off a good shot. It was a good look. I know he is not a prolific 3-point shooter, but I had confidence in him.”

Kentucky was 14-for-52 from the field — 5-for-29 in the first half — and went almost 13 minutes once without a made field goal despite having a team full of projected NBA draft picks.

The Wildcats lost despite a 46-28 edge on the boards — of course, UK gave up a huge offensive rebound to South Carolina late as it has seemed to do in every loss this year — and going 33-for-42 at the foul line.

What did Calipari think?

Well, we don’t know because he sent Robic to the media room.

“Our guys played great. They fought and didn’t give up. We didn’t start the way we wanted to,” Robic said. “They showed some toughness in the end. It is a hurting locker room right now.”

It should be. A team that openly talked of going 40-0 and opened the season No. 1 is now dropping in the NCAA seedings and has eight losses.

So what has happened? According to Aaron Harrison (4-for-16 from the field, no assists) and James Young (4-for-12, five turnovers), nothing.

“It’s frustrating to lose, but we know what we can do. It is going to be a great story,” Aaron Harrison said.

Great story?

“We know what we can do. We talk about it. Even after the game we know what we can do and we can make a run and it will be a great story for everyone to talk about,” Harrison said. “It was a lot about pride (at the end). We couldn’t go out like that. We did all we could do.”

For the last 10 minutes, yes. For the first 30 minutes, no.

Still, Young said UK can “definitely” make a run.

“We didn’t come this far … we are going to keep playing and make a great run,” Young said. “Just let this game go and keep moving forward. Try to make a big run in the end.”

One could argue that the Cats seemed to relax and play harder and better after Calipari, who was on most of his players most of the game, left the court. Robic strongly disagreed.

“I thought we played hard. I didn’t think we made shots,” Robic said when asked why UK’s energy picked up the last 10 minutes. “These kids care. It hurts not to win. I think they saw the ball go in a couple of times and and that brought confidence. They got stops on defense and that also brought confidence. I appreciate them playing hard. The bench was great. We just fell a little bit short.”

Yet Young readily admitted what seemed obvious — UK’s energy went up the final 10 minutes. Maybe it was Calipari’s ejection/fight that inspired them. Or maybe not.

“I think it was energy,” Young said. “We did not come out with a lot of energy. We had more energy in the second half.”

South Carolina coach Frank Martin praised his team — and Kentucky.

“I am tired of people saying our league is bad. Kentucky is a real good basketball team,” Martin said. “Our man-to-man defense was real good in the first half. But Kentucky was just attacking us on the glass and we had to go zone. We were active. We threw the first punch. When they punched us back, we didn’t retreat.”

Which has become a way too familiar thing for this highly touted UK team that is nowhere close to fulfilling the expectations everyone had for this team.

Kentucky's James Young (1) hits his shot as South Carolina's Duane Notice tries to defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday March 1, 2014 in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

Kentucky’s James Young (1) hits his shot as South Carolina’s Duane Notice tries to defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday March 1, 2014 in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

JEFFREY COLLINS
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Brenton Williams scored 24 points for South Carolina, and Kentucky coach John Calipari was ejected midway through the second half as the Gamecocks held off the 17th-ranked Wildcats 72-67 on Saturday night.

South Carolina (11-18, 4-12 Southeastern Conference) led by three at halftime and hit six of its first eight shots in the second half to go up 48-32 with 14:13 left. Kentucky made a furious charge after Calipari was tossed, but came up short.

The Wildcats (21-8, 11-5) couldn’t make a basket, going 15:38 with only one field goal — on a goaltending call. Calipari was ejected with his team down 12 after getting a second technical with 10:21 left. He walked out of the arena with his suit coat buttoned but his shirttail out. Kentucky assistant John Robic took over for Calipari, leading a team for the first time since he was fired from Youngstown State in 2005.

Calipari’s team responded with a 28-17 run and, after a three-point play by Julius Randle, Kentucky trailed 68-67 with 22 seconds left. But freshman Sindarius Thornwell hit two free throws for South Carolina, and Alex Poythress’ attempt at a tying 3-pointer fell short.

It was South Carolina’s first win over a top 25 team in more than three years and pulled the Gamecocks out of last place in the SEC. Students ignored repeated warnings and stormed the court, likely incurring a hefty fine from the league.

The Wildcats shot just 26.9 percent (14-of-52) from the field. They only stayed in it thanks to 33-of-42 shooting from the foul line and outrebounding the Gamecocks 46-28.

Kentucky still was in it at the end. Andrew Harrison hit a 3-pointer with 3:11 left that cut the Gamecocks lead to 59-56. But Laimonas Chatkevicius pulled down an offensive rebound for South Carolina and was fouled. He hit both foul shots.

After two free throws by Kentucky cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 62-58 with just under two minutes left, Chatkevicius dunked in a rebound. James Young hit a 3-pointer for Kentucky to put the Wildcats down three and Chatkevicius followed with a baby hook to put South Carolina ahead 66-61 with 44.3 seconds left.

Chatkevicius finished with eight points. Thornwell added 14 points, and 15 of Williams’ 24 points came from the foul line. He made all four free throws on Calipari’s technical and two more foul shot when assistant Orlando Antigua got another technical.

Aaron Harrison led Kentucky with 21 points. He made just four of his 16 shots, but shot 11-of-12 on free throws. James Young added 19 points and Julius Randle added 10 points and 15 rebounds.

Kentucky shot just 17.2 percent (5-of-29) in the first half and a frustrated Calipari picked up a technical as South Carolina pushed the ball up the floor. He was furious the rest of the half as shot after shot clanked off the rim. Kentucky missed its final 10 shots of the half, and at the buzzer. Calipari briefly stared down the referee who rang him up before walking off to the locker room. He wouldn’t last 10 minutes in the second half.

The Wildcats stayed in it thanks to free throws. They were 17-of-23 from the foul line in the first half. Kentucky also outrebounded South Carolina 30-15 in the first 20 minutes, with 16 offensive boards.

The Gamecocks played a clean first half with just one turnover. Thornwell scored nine points in the half, including two 3-pointers in the final five minutes.

SOUTH CAROLINA 72, No. 17 KENTUCKY 67

KENTUCKY (21-8): Young 4-12 8-10 19, Aa. Harrison 4-16 11-12 21, An. Harrison 1-3 2-4 5, Randle 1-7 8-9 10, Johnson 2-3 4-7 8, Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Polson 0-2 0-0 0, Hood 0-0 0-0 0, Cauley-Stein 1-2 0-0 2, Poythress 1-7 0-0 2, Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-52 33-42 67.

SOUTH CAROLINA (11-18): Thornwell 4-16 4-5 14, Williams 4-10 15-16 24, Henry 2-6 0-0 4, Carrera 3-5 4-8 11, Kacinas 0-0 0-0 0, Notice 4-8 0-0 9, Chatkevicius 3-5 2-2 8, Theus Jr. 0-0 0-0 0, Ringer 0-2 0-1 0, Steele 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 21-53 25-33 72.

Halftime_South Carolina 31-28. 3-Point Goals_Kentucky 6-17 (Young 3-5, Aa. Harrison 2-6, An. Harrison 1-2, Poythress 0-1, Randle 0-1, Polson 0-2), South Carolina 5-13 (Thornwell 2-3, Carrera 1-1, Notice 1-4, Williams 1-5). Fouled Out_Cauley-Stein, Aa. Harrison. Rebounds_Kentucky 46 (Randle 15), South Carolina 28 (Carrera 7). Assists_Kentucky 10 (An. Harrison 4), South Carolina 11 (Thornwell 4). Total Fouls_Kentucky 26, South Carolina 26. Technical_Kentucky Bench. A_15,303.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Willie Cauley-Stein blocks Marshall Henderson's shot in the Cats' win over Ole Miss. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Willie Cauley-Stein blocks Marshall Henderson’s shot in the Cats’ win over Ole Miss. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

By LARRY VAUGHT

While Kentucky coach John Calipari contends that Mississippi had a chance to win at Kentucky going into the game’s final six minutes, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has a slightly different memory of his team’s 80-64 loss at Rupp Arena.

“Cal’s pretty diplomatic in that answer. We stayed around for a while. I believe it was a two- or three-possession game maybe until the 10-, 12-minute mark of the second half. We couldn’t get a rebound, which has really been kind of a broken record for us. But we just could not get a rebound in the second half,” said Kennedy Monday. “If you remember, we had some dead-ball rebounds, but the first one that an Ole Miss Rebel got I believe was under two minutes to go in the second half.

“So we zoned them quite a bit and they did not make a 3-point shot in the second half, but even the ones that they missed they got every rebound. I think Willie Cauley-Stein probably played his best game in a Kentucky uniform and just dominated on both ends. They certainly got some run-outs, but they got control of the game at about the 30-minute mark and then we were just trying to hold on for dear life.”

Cauley-Stein had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots — his best game in SEC play — against Mississippi.

“I’m telling you, with six minutes to go it was anybody’s ballgame. And then we got a couple breakouts and made a shot and all of a sudden it was 12, and then we got going a little bit,” Calipari said. “But that was late, late in the game. You’re at the mercy of them making jumpers. And again, I think their point guard (Jarvis Summers) is really – I think he makes them go.

“They’ve got other players on that team that can score baskets, and then (Marshall) Henderson at any time can make five straight baskets. Can you keep your head about you if he does? And he seems to do it at home more than he does on the road.”

Henderson didn’t start Saturday at Georgia because Kennedy said he had been struggling with his shooting in road games.

“He was shooting close to 30 percent from the floor and less than 25 percent in the first half. So I was just doing something to try to change the way that he approached the game, allow him to see it for a few minutes on the bench and, \I don’t know if that directly affected his performance but he came out and made shots,” Kennedy said. “I think he had 14 (points) in the first half on 6-for-8 shooting, something like that. As a result, we were leading at the half. Second half, he struggled a little bit and as a result we came up a possession short. But that was the thinking: just trying to find a winning combination.”

Florida coach Billy Donovan said Henderson, who averaged 19.5 points per game and is third in the nation with 4.45 made 3-pointers per game, is always hard to defend.

“I think since he has been in this league I do not recall a player as fast as he is coming off screens and getting shots,” Donovan said. “At times you can play really good defense and it does not matter. He is a unique, talented player and the thing I admire most is what a competitor he is. He is a handful, but they have a lot of other good players as well.”

“He’s taking 12 3’s a game. But he’s shooting a decent percentage with those 12. One of them’s going to be from 35 (feet), another’s going to be an inch behind the line. And when he makes them, he’s really, really good, and their team’s really, really good. We just can’t give them any open looks, because he works extremely hard and never stops moving to get a shot off,” Robic said. “They need him to score, there’s no question.”

Ole Miss is fourth in the SEC standings at 7-5 and trails only Florida and Kentucky for the league’s best record over the last 39 SEC teams.

Junior guard Jarvis Summers ranks eighth in the league in scoring at 16.8 points per game and is ninth in the conference with a 48.7 field goal percentage. He’s third in assists at 3.8/game. He is the only player in the league to rank in the top-10 in the SEC in scoring and field goal percentage and top-five in assists.

Freshman forward Sebastian Saiz pulled down 10 boards in a win over Missouri and scored a career-high 20 points against LSU. The Spain native ranks fifth among freshmen in the SEC pulling down 6.0 rebounds per game).

Ole Miss also ranks third the SEC and 12th in the nation, averaging 6.3 blocked shots per game. Junior F Aaron Jones is ranks third in the league, and 56th in the nation, averaging 2.2 blocked shots per game.

“They’re undefeated in the SEC at home. I think typically every team is better at home than not. We went down there last year, and Nerlens (Noel) had a huge game. They’re a different team. They are a perimeter-oriented team with Summers and Henderson and LaDarius White, (Derrick) Millinghaus. So their top four scorers are guards. They started a different lineup last game out. They started really big with (Anthony) Perez and Saiz and No. 23 (Dwight Coleby) at the post. They started big,” Robic said.

“They’re predominantly a zone team. I would say that we’re probably going to see 98 percent zone, whether it’s 2-3 or a 1-3-1. They’ll do some pressing. They seem to press a little bit more at home. I like how Andy coaches. We have to do a good job like we did in the first game here. We were effective in our game plan. We carried it out very, very well. There were only two breakdowns, and Marshall Henderson hit two threes on the two breakdowns. But that’s what we’re getting ready to go into practice now and make sure we’re sharp on that.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

In recent games Jarrod Polson has played more and Dominique Hawkins has played less. But assistant coach John Robic said Monday not to read too much into that.

“They both practice really hard. But even last game, they both – Jarrod played a little bit more, but when they were both in there – they both gave us energy that we didn’t have, and it picked us up,” Robic said. “And that’s something that, as we went back and watched the film, that those two kids did that.

“And they may not score a bunch of points or do whatever, but it’s getting into the legs of the other team and just bringing that to hopefully pick us all up.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Texas A&M has been somewhat of a surprise in Southeastern Conference play with its 3-1 start despite an overtime loss at Mississippi State Saturday. One reason for the team’s success has been defense — Texas A&M leads the SEC in field goal percentage defense going into Tuesday night’s game at No. 14 Kentucky.

“They mix things up defensively between their man-to-man and zone. I really like (Alex) Caruso as a defender. Really anticipates well. They play solidly defensively,” said Robic while UK coach John Calipari was on the road recruiting in Dayton. “Not a whole lot of risk factors in trying to steal balls.

“They wall up really well in the post and make you take tough shots in and around the basket. We’re going to have to do a good job of penetrating, being ready to shoot and hopefully do a little bit of damage on the offensive glass.”

Kentucky didn’t do much damage rebounding Saturday in a win over Tennessee when it was outrebounded 39-24.

“You had two 6-8 kids that weigh about 275 pounds and they had their way with us,” Robic said. “They were space-eaters inside that were really, really physical. I believe it’s the first time all year we’ve been outrebounded and we got our butts kicked on the glass, especially offensively.

“We showed that tape to our players yesterday before practice. We were fortunate to come away with the win. There were a lot of those plays though there were probably two or three, sometimes even four, offensive rebounds per possession. But we have to do a better job keeping guys off the glass for sure.”

Last year Texas A&M came into Rupp Arena and used a 40-point performance by Elston Turner to beat UK 83-71. Later Kentucky won at Texas A&M.

“I watched the game we won. I didn’t watch the game we lost. I’m smarter than that,” Robic told media members Monday.

Texas A&M’s Davonte Fitzgerald was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 16.5 points on nearly 60 percent shooting from the field and 3.5 rebounds against South Carolina and Mississippi State. He had a career-best 20 points with four rebounds at Mississippi State. Caruso, a sophomore, leads the SEC in assists per game (5.2) and is fourth in steals (2.2).

However, it is junior college transfer Jamal Jones that has impressed Robic. He set a career high with 24 points at Mississippi State — his third  straight game of 20 or more points. He’s second in the conference in scoring (20.8 points per SEC contest).

“Really like Jamal Jones. It seems like he should be averaging more than 12 points a game (for the season) because it seems like every time he shoots it it goes in,” Robic said. “He’s really a smooth player, really good with the ball. He can create his own shot. He’s a very good shooter off the catch. It gives them that No. 1 scoring option for their team.”

Robic says Jones is more of a small forward than power forward, but causes matchup problems when he plays the power forward.

“Dual threat, off the dribble and off the catch. We have to make sure that we guard him out on the floor and make him take tough 2’s instead of catch-and-shoot 3’s,” Robic said.

The Aggies (12-5, 3-1 SEC) could benefit if the Cats get off to what has become a traditional slow start. They fell behind early at Arkansas last week in an overtime loss and started off down 9-2 against Tennessee before winning.

“If we had the answer to that question, we’d be good. You know what, it seems like we’re ready to play. Pregame warm-ups have been really good,” Robic said. “I think it was a carry-over of a really good shoot-around that morning. Most teams don’t shoot that morning for a noon game. We typically do, but we don’t go that long. Twenty-five minutes, and we thought we were ready.

“I don’t think that they were prepared themselves enough for how physical the game was going to be. That’s something that you really can’t simulate, and that was certainly the case, especially early in the game.”

That showed in the rebounding, something Robic says was partially due to “ball watching” by the Wildcats.

“We have to be up there somewhere in the national leaders of rebounding margin, but we got our butts handed to us against Tennessee that way. Yeah, it’s effort. It’s what we call the ‘ball watching’ as the shot goes — you’re looking at the ball as opposed to checking out your man and keeping him off the glass. We made a point of that yesterday, and it was better yesterday. We’ll do it again today,” Robic said Monday.

Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said UK will have to be ready for a “grind it out” game against the Aggies’ defense. He said his team won because it found a way to get the ball inside the second half and also created easy score off steals.

“But they do a really good job anticipating who to guard and who not to guard,” Ray said. “More so than anything, they do a great job with the scouting report and evaluating who to guard and then they pack it in and take away driving angles and post up opportunities.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

What areas does assistant coach John Robic think Kentucky has the most area for improvement?

“I would say sustaining, playing entire possessions. Our execution is getting very good,” Robic said Monday. “Free-throw shooting was good the other day. We just got done shooting fouls just now, which we shoot them every day.

“Our transition game is getting better. Our decision-making is getting much better. We could see that the few practices before our last game. Thought Andrew Harrison had a terrific game because he carried over the things we’ve been working on in practice, not because of his stats and his line – that was evident and obvious – but he’s doing it here. And when your point guard does that, it helps everybody for sure.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Taylor County sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin made another unofficial visit to Kentucky Saturday — he was at Vanderbilt a week earlier when UK played and got a scholarship offer from Vandy — and watched the Wildcats beat Tennessee.

“The people that weren’t even on the coaching staff knew me, so it made me feel good that they talked about me,” Goodin said. “I enjoyed it a lot. Amazing atmosphere.”

The UK staff recently watched him play in Lexington when his team lost to Lincoln County and Goodin felt he “pressed” and did not play well.

“Coach Robic was talking about coming to watch me Friday when we play Marion County. He would like to see me against better competition,” Goodin said. “He told me not to worry about the game they saw in Lexington.. He says he enjoys watching me play and he’ll keep coming back.

catalist

For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.