One loss was one too many in Cats' minds

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 24, 2012 

Kentucky Wildcats guard Darius Miller (1) went by Indiana Hoosiers guard/forward Will Sheehey (10) for a basket as #1 Kentucky played Indiana on Saturday December 10, 2011 in Bloomington, IN. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

MARK CORNELISON — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

Freshman star Anthony Davis needed no help Friday in remembering his only college defeat. Perhaps more significantly, in the context of the unavoidable question of whether Kentucky needs another loss to prime itself for the post-season, he also recalled UK's sullen locker room after Indiana's 73-72 victory on Dec. 10.

"It felt terrible to me, especially the way they won," Davis said. "Buzzer beater. Open shot. No contest (of the shot).

"In the locker room that day, we were all looking around (and) mad. Not mad at each other. Just mad in general. That we lost and the way we lost. That really hurt."

That hurt remains. To hear the players, UK carries that hurt into Saturday's game against Vanderbilt, into next week's windup to the regular season and beyond.

"We don't want to have that feeling again," Davis said.

If Kentucky needed any help remembering its loss, ESPN has made sure the Cats can't forget. Christian Watford's winning shot, which punctuated a pulsating afternoon in IU's Assembly Hall, serves as the highlight in ESPN's promotion of its upcoming post-season coverage.

"I don't like that too much," Darius Miller said of the omnipresent ESPN promotion. "It makes us all pretty mad."

Davis acknowledged the good that can come with defeat.

"Just to see how losing feels," he said. "Not to be big-headed."

Kentucky, 27-1 overall, No. 1 ranked and one victory away from clinching the outright Southeastern Conference championship, has reason to be big-headed. But, Davis said, UK doesn't have the personalties to be big-headed.

"Guys just are not like that on this team," he said. "... No matter what people say, no one is like that."

UK Coach John Calipari stands on guard.

"Coach Cal makes sure," Davis said. "He's still always on you. He doesn't care who you are. He's always going to yell at you and make sure you do the right thing."

Calipari suggested the question of whether any team could benefit — or at least not suffer — from a late-season loss depends on the nature of the setback.

"If another team comes in and plays out of their minds, and you play well, and they beat you, it's fine," he said. "You just move on.

"If it's because you are flat and not ready to play and get sand kicked in your face, and that's why you lost, no. Not a good loss."

Vandy, 20-8 overall and 9-4 in the SEC, is fully capable of outplaying Kentucky, Calipari suggested.

When the teams played in Nashville two weeks ago, Vandy led 63-61 entering the final four minutes. UK held the Commodores scoreless in the final 4:06 and won 69-63.

"We know we can compete with them," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said on Thursday. "Now, playing with them on their court is a more difficult proposition than playing with them on our court."

In John Jenkins, Vandy has the SEC's leading scorer (20.1) and three-point maker (3.9 per game). Teammate Jeffery Taylor has made more than half his three-point attempts in SEC play (32-for-61), while Brad Tinsley is also a threat (12-for-32).

Hence, UK will emphasize perimeter defense.

"It's a big key," Miller said. "... We can't let them be comfortable. Make them drive into Anthony."

When Kentucky beat Vanderbilt in Rupp Arena last season, the Cats took their chances with single coverage of big man Festus Ezeli in the low post. Ezeli scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but UK won 68-66.

Vandy seemed intent two weeks ago to challenge Davis with Ezeli. Although it appeared UK provided Davis with more help defense than in earlier games, the freshman said such was not the case.

"We do it every game," Davis said of guards "digging" down to help defend Ezeli. "We just weren't any good at it" in earlier games.

Ezeli, who only began playing basketball at age 15, rates among the top three offensive centers Davis said he'd faced. But Ezeli was not efficient against UK two weeks ago.

"I was a little too pumped up, so I was a little too hyped," Ezeli said. "I was thinking about it too much. This game I'm going to work on staying a little more calm."

Calipari did not make big adjustments sound likely.

"They'll be small little bumps," he said. Otherwise, "it'll be two really good teams going at each other in a significant game."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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