UK a likely ‘1’ seed, but ‘3’ could be a problem

Outside shooting might bite UK in NCAA

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 26, 2010 

All seems well in the Kingdom of the Blue.

Having put an 82-61 revenge smackdown on South Carolina Thursday night before a Rupp Arena crowd of 24,355 that included Magic Johnson and Ben Roethlisberger, Kentucky has now beaten every team it has played this season.

After going oh for its first three tries, UK finally showed it can beat a South Carolina team coached by former Tates Creek High star Darrin Horn (had South Carolina won Thursday, the Humane Society planned to declare Horn America’s No. 1 killer of Cats).

There was much to like Thursday evening. Patrick Patterson (23 points; eight rebounds) continues his late-season surge. Darius Miller (seven points; eight rebounds; two blocks) was as active and aggressive as he’s ever been in a college game.

Barring some kind of late-season funk, UK (27-1, 12-1) appears to have an all-important No. 1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament well in hand.

Of course, it is a universal truth of the Kentucky basketball experience that when all seems splendid, something has to be found over which to fret.

So in that regard, I’ll help out. Over its past six games, UK’s outside shooting has been so arctic, it belongs in the Winter Olympics.

Since hitting 21 of 42 three-point attempts combined in home court victories over Vanderbilt and Mississippi, Kentucky is 25-for-103 (24.3 percent) from long range in its six games since, including 3-for-11 Thursday evening.

If there is one game in the hot-house pressure of March in which UK absolutely, positively has to hit jump shots to survive, can this team do it? Can the Cats make the Final Four run the Kingdom of the Blue now expects if they don’t start making more outside shots?

The errant long-range shooting of late has pretty much been a total team effort.

After going 0-for-2 against South Carolina, Eric Bledsoe has now failed to make a three-pointer in seven of his past 10 games.

Since draining four of five treys against Mississippi, Darnell Dodson — expected to be UK’s designated long-range threat — is 2-for-16.

DeAndre Liggins is 4-for-16 from outside the arc in his past five games, and that includes the meaningless trey he threw in with 10 seconds to go Thursday night to put the Cats up 82-59.

Miller is 4-for-18 on treys over the past nine games.

After going 0-for-3 Thursday, even John Wall is not finding three-point shooting to be much of a dance; he is now 3-for-19 over his most recent six games. Amazingly, it’s been Patterson — who entered this season having never made a three-point shot as a collegian — who has been UK’s most consistent perimeter threat down the stretch.

After connecting on his only try Thursday, the 6-foot-9 junior has now made a three-pointer in eight straight games.

Who would have predicted that when the season began?

(Right here, UK fan, I’ll pause to let you contemplate how good your team would have been had Jodie Meeks and his long-range arsenal stayed in Lexington for this season).

Now it’s entirely possible Kentucky might be able to make the Final Four without a significant three-point attack. In the current six-game cold streak from the perimeter, UK has won six times, after all.

No team in the country has a better low-post scoring tandem than UK’s Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins (19 points, 11 rebounds Thursday).

Even effective zone defenses have a difficult time keeping the quick-on-quick Wall and Bledsoe from reaching the rim off dribble penetration.

If UK also makes jump shots, it’s hard to see any team, other than maybe Kansas, that has the talent to beat it.

So when the competition starts getting better; in an NCAA Tournament game when Patterson or, more likely, Cousins gets in foul trouble and UK needs some jump shots to survive, how sure are you there will be somebody in Blue who can provide them?

Hey, March wouldn’t be much fun without something to worry about. Right?

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