John Clay: Lost weekend found Kentucky with no answers

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 9, 2011 

ATHENS, GA. — Talk about your bad Big Blue karma. Talk about your lost weekends.

The bad vibes began Thursday when the No. 10 Kentucky women flew from the pines of Durham, N.C., fresh off a heartbreaking loss to No. 3 Duke, right into another loss in the Arkansas Ozarks.

Then came frustrating Friday when the NCAA officially slammed the door on poor Enes Kanter, ruling once and for all that since Kanter is not a college quarterback for a national power, he may never, ever play college basketball, a ruling that made even Dr. Lee Todd throw up his slide rule in disgust.

Then came high noon Saturday when the Kentucky football team, which has a coach, played the Pittsburgh football team, which doesn't have a coach, and laid an egg in the BBVA Compass Bowl, right there in front of dozens.

So surely, late Saturday afternoon, John Calipari's basketball Cats would pull out the save by beginning Southeastern Conference play with a bold opening statement at the expense of the up-and-coming Georgia Bulldogs.

Oops.

There might have been snow on the ground in Lexington on Saturday morning, but there was a snowball in Athens.

Georgia 77, Kentucky 70.

"We had guys taking fade-away 1-footers," said Calipari afterward, shaking his head. "You got guys in positions they've never been in their lives, having to make a play when it matters."

But how long has it been since Kentucky was in this position, suffering such a wipeout of a weekend?

In a 24-hour period, UK was shut down in the NCAA court of appeals, embarrassed on the gridiron, then defeated on the basketball court for the first time in a conference opener since 2006.

Did Friday's Kanter ruling have any residual effect on Saturday? Did the Cats let one loss become two? Probably not.

Despite the post-ruling outcry, UK had to know Free Enes was a major roll of the dice. The NCAA and the school had agreed early the 6-foot-11 difference-maker received $33,000 beyond reasonable expenses while playing for a Turkish professional team. No number of appeals, or Cameron Newton loophole rulings, or head-scratching Ohio State delayed suspensions was going to push the NCAA off that stance.

Not that no Kanter is no problem. Any team could use a player of his size and skill, especially in conference tilts where there is more hand-to-hand combat, more whistles. By game's end Saturday, Kentucky had been called for 24 fouls. Three Cats (Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Doron Lamb) had fouled out. And this is a team that goes all of six deep.

"It was a little physical," said Lamb, the freshman who scored 18 points but insisted he would have scored more had the officials called a few bumps as a few fouls. "You could say fouling, but they don't want to hear that."

Welcome to the SEC.

Terrence Jones led the Cats with 24 points, but rarely has an impressive number been accumulated less impressively. The freshman was another virtual no-show in the first half, scoring just four points. Key stretch: After UK tied the game at 58 with 7:07 left, the visitors went 12 trips with just one field goal.

"If he's going to start like that," said Calipari, talking about Jones, thinking of the first half, and shaking his head yet again, "then maybe we need to bring him off the bench."

Give Georgia credit. Calipari did. Second-year coach Mark Fox has the Bulldogs pointed in the right direction. The gifted Trey Thompkins scored 25 points. Transfer Gerald Robinson has given Fox a steady hand at point guard. And Georgia, a team that had made just 62.2 percent of its free throws this season, was a deadly 30-for-34 from the foul line.

If you're Kentucky, that's when you know karma is not on your side.

Not on this lost weekend.

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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