Cats had one of those nights

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 27, 2010 



It can be a whole different view from the mountaintop.

When you're No. 1, and you're getting pats on the back and calls from the president, the air can get a little thinner up there. Legs grow a little shaky. Head gets a little fuzzy. You can lose your focus.

Example: Not quite three minutes into the second half Tuesday night of top-ranked Kentucky's 68-62 loss to South Carolina, Patrick Patterson didn't get to a 50-50 ball, and Cats Coach John Calipari pogoed off the bench and yelled for Perry Stevenson to get in the game. Stevenson stared straight ahead. Calipari screamed, "Now!!!!!!"

Stevenson fumbled with the zipper of his warm-up on his way to the scorer's table.

Exasperated, Calipari yelled for Daniel Orton to replace Stevenson, who had not even yet replaced Patterson.

It was that kind of night.

With 5:30 left, Kentucky down by two, Darnell Dodson made a steal at midcourt, swooped in for the wide-open dunk and — missed it.

It was that kind of night.

With 4:16 remaining, it was South Carolina ball on the baseline under its basket. Two seconds left on the shot clock. Inbounds pass goes to Carolina's Mr. Everything, Devan Downey, on the right baseline. He rises for his shot, is inexplicably fouled by a falling DeAndre Liggins. The whistle blows. The shot drops through the net. And (a made) one.

It was that kind of night.

A long wait for No. 1, a probable short stay at No. 1.

Make no mistake, the 5-foot-9 Downey slithers like a snake. He's a serpent, rising up out of the tall grass to strike at a moment's notice. The stellar senior scored 30 points, most at the most serious times. End of possession. End of shot clock.

Take nothing away from his game. Kentucky sure couldn't take anything away from Downey.

"He got his," said Calipari, "but we didn't offensive rebound. They got 20 offensive rebounds."

Story of the night. On paper, Kentucky appeared to have a serious advantage on the boards, yet was outrebounded 44-40. Hustle plays. The Cats were credited with just nine assists, against 15 turnovers. John Wall had four of those turnovers and two assists. He took 16 shots and made six.

You didn't need to read the numbers to know the score, however. Kentucky's play alternated between flat and frustrated, as if its heads were placed elsewhere. Possibly in the clouds.

"We need to focus," said DeMarcus Cousins, the one Cat who came to play, matching his career high of 27 points.

After an 18-point outburst Saturday against Arkansas, Darius Miller failed to scratch. It was not one of Patterson's better efforts. The junior took just four shots, scored five points.

"But we had chances to win anyway," said Calipari.

As the first-half clock wound down, Calipari ordered Daniel Orton to join John Wall in a trap of Downey. Orton exceeded the orders, bumping the Carolina guard, drawing a foul. Calipari looked as if he could chew a lightbulb.

Then Downey spun in a shot with one second left in the first half to cut the lead to 29-26. It was a preview of things to come.

The bookend was this: With 43.4 seconds left in the second half, Calipari called time just before Wall drove to the basket with a chance to cut the Carolina lead to two at 62-60.

It was that kind of night.

"This is what happens with a young team," said Calipari, who added that at times, his team wasn't listening and that it tried too often to make heroes' plays.

Cal said being unbeaten had nothing to do with it, nor did being No. 1, give the credit to Carolina, "They just outworked us."

"No. 1 is not a championship," said Cousins. "We're playing for a championship."

In the end, it's an untimely fender bender, but the lesson is clear. Keep your feet on the ground, your eyes on the road and your head out of the clouds.

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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