NASHVILLE — Point guard Ryan Harrow sat in a metal folding chair, his back to the center of the Kentucky dressing room Friday night. His head hung down, just the pose UK Coach John Calipari repeatedly lamented this season. A towel hiding his face served as a shroud.
When a reporter asked in a compassionate tone for the chance to ask about Kentucky's 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt, Harrow slowly turned and let the towel slip down around his neck.
"It's just on me," he said in a tone not much louder than a whisper. "I'm the reason we lost." As point guard, he held more than the ball in his hands. He also held his team's fate.
"That's how it always is," he said. "If I play well, then we play well. If I don't play well, the team just doesn't produce."
It was decidedly the latter in Kentucky's exit from the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Harrow made only two of 15 shots. He committed four turnovers, the most he's had in a game since Feb. 2.
"I missed all my shots I'm supposed to make," he said. "It's on me."
Although teammates denied that the blame rested with Harrow, UK Coach John Calipari seemed to agree.
"We laid an egg," he said before adding, "We had one guy go two-for-15 (and) miss 12 layups."
Harrow missed his first five shots as UK fell behind for good inside the first eight minutes.
"I didn't start well (and) it trickled down to everyone else," he said.
Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said his team targeted Harrow as the UK player to contain. "Because he killed us in the game up there," Stallings said of Harrow's 12-point, four-assist, no-turnover play in 32 minutes against the Commodores last month. "He just got to the rim on us. We had to do something.
"We did a better job containing the ball, building a little bit of a wall."
Willie Cauley-Stein noted how he tried to console and encourage Harrow during the game. "I was telling him the whole game: You have to learn," the 7-footer said. "They're not calling fouls. You're getting to the rim. You have to keep going. Eventually, they're going to fall. But they never did."
Maybe worst of all, Harrow went to the bench in the second half with his head hung low and seemingly beyond consolation. When an assistant held out a hand in a hang-in-there gesture, Harrow pushed it away as he walked by.
Afterward, Harrow's body language, tone of voice and words evoked regret.
"Of course, we want to go to the (NCAA) tournament," he said "Because if we play there, we can beat anybody. I basically just messed it up."
To say the least, the loss jeopardized Kentucky's hopes for an NCAA bid.
"The good news is everyone seems to be losing," Calipari said, "and I just hope we're the best of the bad right now."
The UK coach said he trusted the NCAA Selection Committee to make the appropriate choices.
"If we're in, we'll play better," he said. "and if we're not, we're not. I mean, there's nothing we can do about it."
Julius Mays suggested UK went into the game overly confident of victory.
"I think it was on guys' minds that we beat them twice," he said. "So we thought it's going to be a walk in the park."
Kentucky did beat Vandy twice, but only by two- and four-point margins.
Calipari warned the Cats to take Vandy seriously, Mays said. Vandy had two advantages: A relatively more experienced team, plus the chance to play in the SEC Tournament's second round on Thursday.
"He prepared us," Mays said. "It's all our fault, really."
After falling behind by 21 points early in the second half, Kentucky used a zone defense to rally. The Cats held Vandy without a point for almost four minutes while closing the deficit to 11.
"It slowed them down," Cauley-Stein said of the zone. "The zone was really good for us. I almost think we should have done it earlier. It would have maybe slowed them down a lot earlier and let us make a better run instead of making a late run."
After Vandy called time with 12:42 left, UK went back to a man-to-man. Kedren Johnson drove by his man for a layup and the rally ended.
When asked about the switch to man, Cauley-Stein said, "I just do what Coach says to do."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com