Sports

UK fans ask about who's not playing

Jodie Meeks was turning in yet another of his mind-blowing, record-breaking point parades Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, but the cyberspace faithful were obsessing over another Wildcat: Kevin Galloway — why wasn't he playing?

It's the staple of the modern-day sports fan. It's not about who's playing, but who's not playing. And why.

While the marvelous Meeks was pouring in 45 points to lead a Patrick Patterson-less Kentucky to a 79-63 win over John Pelphrey's near-hapless Razorbacks, the lively folks on my in-game Liveblog were peppering the moderator with queries about the junior guard sitting on the bench.

Galloway had been such a force during the previous game, after all. His six points, eight rebounds and nine assists in 25 minutes had contributed mightily to UK's 68-65 win over Florida four days before. Billy Gillispie himself said afterward, "The whole deal changed when Galloway came in."

Saturday, not so much. Galloway played a grand total of three minutes. He scored two points on a tip-in. No assists.

"He wasn't aggressive," was Gillispie's critique.

Sometimes with Coach G, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

For a fan base that scrutinizes "minutes played" the way bargain-shoppers study coupons, Gillispie is just the kind of unpredictable coach who drives the faithful absolutely nuts. It's a combustible mix.

There was the now-famous Las Vegas Invitational head-scratcher when DeAndre Liggins refused to re-enter a game on Friday, then got 27 minutes of playing time the very next night. Freshman Darius Miller grabbed 10 rebounds in 34 minutes against Miami, then played all of 11 minutes the next day against Mississippi Valley. Landon Slone, a walk-on from Prestonsburg, earned 49 minutes in two late-December games, then didn't see the floor for a single second the entire month of January.

And let's not even put a toe into the deep pool of Jared Carter inquiries that fill our voice-mails and in-boxes.

Fans are famously fickle, of course. They boo Michael Porter checking in at the scorer's table, then wildly cheer when his three-pointer rips the net. Sometimes in the same game. Dan Issel has told the story of being in a hotel elevator after Kentucky beat Duke for the 1978 NCAA title in St. Louis and listening to fans complain about how Coach Joe B. Hall didn't use a certain player enough.

The one question certain to furrow Tubby Smith's gentlemanly brow concerned playing time. Gillispie is a bit more forgiving when the delicate subject is broached, but who could blame him if he wasn't.

We don't see practice. Neither do the fans. We don't see the grade sheets, the interactions with teammates, general demeanor. Our limited contact with the players — we can't even talk to them the day before road games this year — dials back any insight that might be gleaned from such encounters.

Yet the fans can't help themselves. They want to know what the head coach is thinking, even if, with this coach, they acknowledge that ranks right up there with the mysteries of the great beyond. It's unknowable. Many believe that's just the way Gillispie likes it, and they might be right.

Or maybe it's as simple as the curt explanation with which Smith once greeted a playing-time query.

"I'm the coach," he said. "I decide."

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