I apologize for the delay in getting the recap up, but I've been on the road all weekend. Let me preface this by saying, my seats for this game were at center court, but about halfway up the massive upper deck in Rupp Arena, so I was probably a few hundred feet off the court, so my observations could be way off.
Honestly, it was not as bad as I expected it to be when I found out that Hendrix was not going to be able to play. I was hoping he would play through it and have a big game anyway, much like Michael Jordan in the NBA finals, but I don't think anyone will ever be able to repeat that performance under those conditions. I wonder why the entire team was not required to get flu shots.
Yamene Coleman and Justin Knox filled in about as well as could be expected. Situations like this is exactly why we should have got Knox more experience earlier in the season. Without a dominating post presence, I was hoping that we would go with a smaller lineup and a more uptempo pace, but it seems we did not alter our style or gameplan with Hendrix unavailable.
Even when we had an 8 point lead in the 1st half, I never thought we really had a chance to win the game. UK was missing wide open shots, and you knew that wouldn't happen all day in Rupp. You also knew that Knox and Coleman would not score consistently in the paint throughout the entire game. We made some perimeter shots in the first half, but once we went cold, it was game over.
It seems like every game we get off to a slow start in the second half. We only scored 5 points in the first 8 minutes of the second half. Our offense was atrocious. Give credit to Kentucky for playing very good defense, but we forced a lot of bad shots early in the shot clock, and resorted to a one on one game for much of the second half. With our depth and athleticism I do not understand why we don't press more, especially when the halfcourt offense bogs down as badly as it did Saturday, to try to get into a faster pace game.
Hollinger does not need to be running the point. He's about the only player we've got who is shooting halfway consistently, but he just doesn't have the size and strength to take care of the ball at the point. I like him coming in at the 2 position, but we need to run him through some screens and get him some open 3's. Why we continue to run plays designed to have him driving toward the basket is beyond me. Our best backcourt Saturday was Torrance at PG and Hollinger at SG, but I think they were only in the game together for a few minutes. I know Hendrix's absence complicated matters, but our substitution patterns were so bad and nonsensical that I don't even know where to start.
Justin Tubbs was a pretty good shooter last year, but I'm afraid he has lost all confidence sitting on the bench. When he does shoot the ball these days, he's not even coming close.
I was thinking one bright spot with Hendrix being out would be that our free throw shooting would be better, but we sucked balls at the line as usual.
With the exception of Riley giving up his usual 2 or 3 uncontested 3's, I thought we played pretty well on defense. They were able to do some damage in the paint when Coleman wasn't in the game, but for the most part we played pretty good defense. Kentucky is improving, and after Gillespie has a couple of years to recruit his players, I feel this was probably the weakest Kentucky team we will see in Rupp for many years. It's a shame we couldn't get the W.
One thing that concerns me is that we seem to find different ways to lose every game. One game we shoot well but don't defend the perimeter. The next game we play good defense, but get shut down on offense. The only consistency is poor free throw shooting, and a strong inside game from Hendrix. This tells me that we are allowing our opponents to dictate the style and pace of the games.
Enough about our 2-7 basketball team for now. If you have never been to Rupp Arena, I strongly advise you to go. This was my 3rd trip, and I've had a great time every time I've been. I always wear my UA gear, and in 3 trips I haven't heard a single negative comment from any of the UK fans. In fact, they've been more than gracious in both victory and defeat.
That atmosphere is what college basketball is all about. 20,000 + fans for every game, cheering loudly for their team, and it's not just the student section that gets into it. There is a mall type area attached to the arena, with shops, a food court, and a sports bar, and people arrive several hours early as they broadcast their radio pregame show from the common area. Inside, they don't even hang banners for the years that they do not make the final 4. With their tradition, there is no question that they are the bell cow for SEC basketball, and they are great ambassadors for the conference. UK and their fans are first class. When they make the NCAA tournament and we don't, I'll definitely be pulling for the Big Blue.
Up next, Andy Kennedy brings his Ole Miss rebels to Tuscaloosa Wednesday night. After a very impressive non-conference start which included a win over Clemson, the rebels have come back to earth with a 3-5 conference record. They are coming off a tough loss to Arkansas in a game that they battled back from behind but came up short in the end. We will be looking to tie the Rebels in the West division standings with 3 SEC wins. No TV, so if you want to see it, you'll have to come out to Coleman.