UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie: No point in blame game

Maybe Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie thought it would seem like piling on. Virginia Military Institute went into Friday night's game planning to attack UK's questionable point-guard play. So maybe Gillispie saw no need to attack that position afterward.

Gillispie spread the responsibility for Kentucky's 111-103 loss to VMI widely. It was too simple to solely blame the point guards, whose combined six assists and 12 turnovers contributed to UK's muddled, unfocused play.

Gillispie spoke of an overall lack of leadership, beginning with the coach, that led to defeat.

But the UK coach acknowledged that neither starting point guard Michael Porter nor backup DeAndre Liggins distinguished himself.

Porter, who came into this season with more career turnovers (61) than assists (51), committed at least two turnovers and nearly had a third before going to the bench with 16:50 left in the first half. He finished with one assist and five turnovers in 18 shaky minutes.

"He didn't start out the game like he needed to: with the intensity he needed to," Gillispie said of Porter. "I thought he played a little nervous. I thought he played a little lackadaisical as far as (not) being aggressive.

"Michael's not a good enough athlete to be timid. He has to be a guy attacking."

Liggins played like a freshman. At times, he looked too eager to make something happen, never more so than when he tried to knife through two defenders with a behind-the-back dribble.

"He did OK," Gillispie said of Liggins, who had five assists and seven turnovers. "He's got a lot to learn. But he did OK."

Liggins' stat line suggested he can physically handle the college level. He had seven rebounds and two blocks.

But VMI's frenetic style was designed to remove the opponent from the comforts of a daily practice routine. Liggins probably does not have enough experience yet to think and play at a rapid clip.

Clearly, VMI intended to find out.

When asked whether the Keydets wanted to test UK's point guards, Chavis Holmes said, "That's exactly it. We wanted to exploit their guard play. We knew (Jodie) Meeks and (Patrick) Patterson could beat us. We wanted to push up on their guards. We started on them early, pushing up, and it rattled them."

Sounding a lot like former orchestrators of chaos Rick Pitino and Nolan Richardson, VMI Coach Duggar Baucom said pressure on UK's point guards was a point of emphasis.

"Make them make plays," he said. "We really wanted to get up under them and make them dribble the ball and do things they're not comfortable doing, not what they've practiced. Our goal is not to let people run sets."

That strategy made meaningless Gillispie's pre-game talk of the great practices Kentucky had had.

Coincidentally, VMI played without junior Adam Lonon, who had made 60 starts at point guard.

"We went the whole pre-season trying to decide who is our point guard," Baucom said. "All we decided is who is not our point guard."

Baucom noted that five Keydets shared the chore of bringing up the ball against Kentucky.

Similarly, the opener seemed to show who isn't Kentucky's point guard.

Kentucky played too fast. The lure of beating the pressure became too great. As a result, the Cats forgot about Patterson, who equaled a career-low four shot attempts.

Like his coach, Patterson did not place the blame on the point guards. He blamed himself.

"It's my fault," he said. "I wasn't posting up hard. I wasn't moving in the paint."

As Gillispie saw it, Kentucky never got in position to use Patterson. And as the floor leader, it's the point guard who must direct the action.

"I don't know if we ever got set up one time," the UK coach said. And when asked about the Cats' struggle against a 2-3 zone late in the game, he said, "We never had an organized approach all night long."

But Gillispie cautioned against pinning the blame on Porter and Liggins.

"I just thought it was a collective lack of leadership, and it starts with me," the UK coach said. "We didn't talk. We didn't carry out defensive assignments. We didn't know where we were going half the time. That's very disappointing to me."

Kentucky doesn't have much time to play fix-it. The Cats have a much-anticipated made-for-TV game at No. 1 North Carolina on Tuesday.

The idea of going from a loss to VMI to facing the mighty Tar Heels?

"It's a huge motivation in practice," Patterson said. "However many times we practice Saturday, Sunday, Monday. We're going to turn this all around."