John Clay: UK basketball, the good and the bad

There's a lot to like and not to like

Herald-Leadersports columnistFebruary 7, 2011 

When a basketball team is 4-4 halfway through conference play, there should be an equal amount of good news and bad news.

When Kentucky is 4-4, the school's worst conference mark after eight games since 1989-90, there is probably more bad than good. But, hey, we're trying to keep a positive attitude here.

Good news: As John Calipari said after UK's 70-68 loss at Florida on Saturday night, "There are a lot of games left."

Bad news: Florida is now a lot of games ahead. The Gators are 7-2, with road wins over Tennessee and Georgia, plus home triumphs over Vanderbilt and Kentucky. In fact, when we woke up Sunday morning, Kentucky found itself mired in a three-way tie with Vanderbilt and South Carolina for last place in the East.

Good news: The second half of UK's conference schedule includes five home games, starting with Tennessee on Tuesday night, and just three road games — at Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Bad news: Kentucky could not beat a 1-5 Mississippi team on the road, nor a 6-2 Florida team on the road.

Good news: Calipari says there is not a four-point difference between the top team in the league and the bottom team in the league.

Bad news: Kentucky has already lost four two-point decisions this year. Until this season, Kentucky had not lost a game by two points since Mississippi State in the 2007 SEC Tournament. Since the 1999-2000 season, the Cats have lost eight two-point games. Four of those have come this year.

Good news: Brandon Knight came up huge Saturday back in his home-state, scoring 17 second-half points. He buried three three-pointers in the second half alone.

Bad news: After a 20-point effort at Ole Miss, Doron Lamb was held to just five points by the Gators.

Good news: Eloy Vargas played perhaps his best game of the season, grabbing four rebounds in 14 minutes while hearing boos from the Florida crowd, which had not forgotten that he played his freshman year for the Gators.

Bad news: The Cats got little out of Josh Harrellson, who managed four points and three rebounds. Harrellson scored 23 points in Kentucky's win over Louisville. He's scored 25 points in the last seven games.

Good news: There were times on Saturday night in which it seemed the Kentucky coach wanted the game more than his team did. Calipari was constantly on the floor, screaming, gyrating, cajoling, encouraging, bemoaning.

Bad news: Because Cal is so emotional during the game, it's human nature to wonder how his team could possibly stay cool, calm and collected down the stretch. At Ole Miss, Kentucky got a late open shot, but didn't take it. At Florida, on the final possession, Calipari chose not to call time, and the Cats could not get the shot they wanted. Knight's try died at the rim.

Good news: Because of last year's 35-3 near-dream ride, Calipari has what he would call "money in the bank" with a group of fans known to grow grumpy quickly when its team loses.

Bad news: Let's face it, we're spoiled. Last year's freshmen were an uncommon group of freshmen, added to a team with upper-class leadership in Patrick Patterson. This year's freshmen are very good, but as Cal himself has said, "We're just not as dominant this year."

Good news: This season isn't over by a long shot, but the fact that Calipari has four top-drawer signees on board for next year keeps hope alive.

Bad news: It's obvious Cal put most, if not all, of his eggs in the Enes Kanter basket. Kanter is the one piece Kentucky lacks. (He'd be the one piece a lot of teams lack.) But Calipari also didn't come up with a back-up plan, and when the NCAA officially slammed the door on the Kanter eligibility bid, the Cats were left with what they have right now.

Some good news. Some bad news. And eight more conference games left to play.

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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