John Clay: UK tumbles to a new low

Like the stock market, Cats are crashing

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 5, 2009 

Talk about a recession leading to a depression.

Maybe we should have seen this coming. Maybe we should have known the way Kentucky had been spiraling downward like the stock market this second half of the conference season that the Cats had not yet hit rock bottom.

If Wednesday night wasn't rock bottom, Coach Billy Gillispie's team sure landed with a thud.

Georgia 90, Kentucky 85.

Georgia? That's right, Georgia. The same Georgia that came into the game 2-12 in the conference, 11-18 overall. The same Georgia that was 0-7 in SEC road games, losing by an average of 18 points. The same Georgia that lost by 22 at then 1-12 Arkansas on Sunday. The same Georgia that fired its coach (Dennis Felton) in-season a long time ago.

But against Kentucky at Rupp, Georgia looked like Los Angeles, as in the Los Angeles Lakers. Terrence Woodbury played like Kobe Bryant, scoring 30 points. Trey Thompkins played like Andrew Bynum. There was a Pau Gasol and a Derek Fisher mixed in there somewhere, as well.

Georgia shot 50 percent from the floor, made a scorching 11 of 16 three-pointers, 25 of 30 free throws, and outhustled and outfought the Cats most of the long, long night.

Not that we should have been all that surprised. Forget the NCAA Tournament. Or the SEC Tournament. Or the NIT, for that matter. The way this Kentucky team has been playing, the question isn't which tournament will the Cats make, it's why would you want them to make one in the first place?

Good teams are supposed to be improving at this crucial time of the year. UK has been stuck in reverse for quite some time. There was the lackluster effort at Vanderbilt — Patrick Patterson (ankle) or no Patrick Patterson.

There was the we-really-don't-want-to-be-here effort in that 18-point loss at South Carolina. The Cats played well Saturday against league champ LSU but committed enough crucial errors at game's end to lose to the experienced Tigers.

And then, when everyone was focusing on the UK-Florida matchup Saturday in Gainesville, the clawless Cats were chewed up by a group of junkyard Dogs.

"It's all my fault," Gillispie said afterward. "I take the blame."

The vaunted Kentucky defense was nowhere to be found. The Dogs got open shots.

They won the glass by 11. You could see Pete Herrmann's team — and good for Pete — balloon in confidence with every passing minute. Kentucky even pulled within a point at 63-62, yet Georgia weathered the storm.

"They just took it to us," Gillispie said.

Remember, that's the now 3-12 Georgia doing the taking.

It doesn't matter if you're a Gillispie fan or a non-Gillispie fan. It doesn't matter if you think the coach should join the growing unemployment figures after just his second year, or you think he'll need 20 more to overcome the shortcomings of his predecessor. Your side of the political fence doesn't really matter.

What does matter is that this Kentucky team has gotten worse, not better. That's indisputable.

It started the conference season 5-0. It now sits 8-7 with a trip to Florida in the offering. It is no better on offense and worse on defense.

And here, on March 5, Gillispie is still playing his mind games, jerking all but one of his starters early in the second half.

By the time Gillispie took them out of the penalty box, Georgia had turned a two-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead, 61-53. Gamble failed.

"I'm having a hard time finding five guys, or three or four guys that play hard, play smart and play together," Gillispie said.

It's a little late in the year for that. Things just cratered.

And there's no bailout on the horizon. No stimulus package. Previously hapless Georgia proved that these Cats are in a full-fledged recession as their fans deal with a withering depression.

No recovery in sight.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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