John Clay: At least Cats' problems are fixable

Free throws, turnovers aren't character flaws

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 12, 2011 

There are issues and then there are issues.

Mick Cronin and Chris Mack are dealing with issues.

Cronin coaches Cincinnati. Mack coaches Xavier. After that embarrassing Saturday afternoon display of brutal fisticuffs in the Crosstown Slugfest — can we please stop with the "disrespect" and "gangsta" nonsense now — both men are lucky to still have their jobs.

They're the coaches. They're the adults. They're the ones responsible for their programs and their players.

Kentucky has issues. No need for italics. No need for a panic button after John Calipari's club fell 73-72 to unranked Indiana on Saturday in Bloomington.

The top-ranked Cats could have easily won, but they didn't. Kentucky shot 68 percent the second half, 55.6 for the game. It rallied from 10 points down to be one point up with five seconds to play. It held together admirably well in a crazy environment.

That doesn't mean UK's issues, if not dealt with, can't become issues.

Here are three:

1. Free-throw shooting: The Cats were 10-for-17 from the foul line on Saturday for 58.8 percent. That's not good. What's worse is when they came. Anthony Davis missed the front end of a one-and-one with 19.4 seconds left and Kentucky leading 71-70.

Then with 5.6 seconds left, Doron Lamb stepped to the line for two shots. Lamb entered the game as an exemplary 89 percent foul shooter. This game, however, he was just 7-for-11 from the stripe. He missed the first. After the timeout, he hit the second.

Had he made both, Christian Watford's three would have merely sent the game to overtime, instead of sending the Indiana students to the court.

Trouble is, the same thing nearly happened the Saturday before. With 21.5 seconds left against North Carolina, Marquis Teague missed the front end of a bonus situation. That allowed the visiting Tar Heels to have a shot at victory — a John Henson shot that Davis blocked.

Alas, Saturday, Davis was much too far away from Watford's winning shot.

2. Turnovers: In four of its nine games, Kentucky has ended up with more turnovers than assists. Same thing Saturday. The Cats dished just nine assists while turning it over 17 times, including 13 in the first half.

The visitors took much better care of the basketball in the second half, committing just four turnovers. That ball security helped the Cats shoot nearly 70 percent. But there were too many empty possessions in the first half, thanks to roundball wrecklessness.

Consider that in its last two games, Kentucky has managed just 18 assists on 58 field goals. Against North Carolina, Teague had four assists. The rest of the team had five. Saturday at IU, Marquis Teague had five assists. The rest of the team had four.

3. Three-point defense: It nearly burned the Cats last week. It did burn the Cats on Saturday.

North Carolina made 11 of 18 three-pointers and, as previously mentioned, came within a Davis swat of beating the Cats in Rupp.

Saturday, Indiana made nine of 15 threes in getting the job done. Tom Crean's club made seven of nine three-point attempts in the second half, including Watford's winner, one that Lamb called "a lucky shot," while Crean referred to it as having "picture-perfect form." It's in the eye of the beholder.

But there is something of a trend here. Portland went 11-for-23 from the three-point stripe against the Cats on Nov. 26. So on the last three Saturdays — we won't count the Dec. 1 game in which St. John's made just two of 13 triples — Kentucky's opponents have made 31 of 56 three-pointers for 55.3 percent.

That's an issue that needs to be dealt with, before it becomes an issue.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226, or 1-800-950-6379, Ext. 3226, or Read his blog at

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