Kentucky never led. Kentucky never gave up.
But in a yardstick game against a ranked opponent, grit and determination and guile only got Kentucky close.
No. 21 Miami won 73-67 on Saturday. The Cats earned never-say-die recognition in trying to overcome two teams: themselves as well as the Hurricanes.
Jodie Meeks made only four of 17 shots (two of 12 from three-point range) in the worst-shooting game of his career.
Freshman DeAndre Liggins gave UK a chance with his point guard play off the bench. But he also shot away one of the Cats' chances to pull out an improbable victory with a quick three-pointer in the final minute when the deficit was five. That audacity of hope finished his 0-for-8 game from beyond the arc and pretty much finished Kentucky.
"We shot 23 threes," UK Coach Billy Gillispie said with disbelief in his voice. "Goodness gracious. The game plan was to drive the basketball and get it inside. We didn't do that till it was too late."
Gillispie cited a "big difference in effort and execution" for Miami taking control and never trailing.
Kentucky (5-3) rallied from a 21-point second-half deficit. Thanks to Miami's unusually poor free-throw shooting (six straight misses inside the final 94 seconds), the Cats got as close as four points.
With its leading scorer and All-Atlantic Coast Conference guard, Jack McClinton, stifled by Meeks, Miami resembled the McClinton-less team that blew a 14-point halftime lead against Ohio State earlier in the week.
But Miami held on to win for the fifth time in seven games.
The difference? "Jack," Coach Frank Haith said before adding, "If we make our free throws, we win by 10 or 15."
McClinton led the Hurricanes with 23 points.
Cincinnati native James Dews, who had four points against Ohio State and came into the game shooting 31.3 percent, added a season-high 18.
Patrick Patterson led a balanced UK attack with 19 points, but lamented what got away.
"They pretty much handed us a win," he said. "We just didn't take it."
Kentucky went off the floor at halftime to a chorus of boos. The reasons were many, starting with a 46-26 deficit. "We didn't have any heart," Patterson said.
Or brains. Patterson, one of the nation's highest-percentage shooters this season, didn't take his first shot until the 8:27 mark of the first half.
The Hurricanes made back-to-back three-pointers to start the game and never trailed. Much the quicker team, or maybe more insistent on taking the initiative (or both), Miami outshot UK (51.6 percent to 30.6).
Leading Miami were a totally predictable source and a bit of a surprise.
McClinton scored 17 first-half points, a performance that surely had UK fans lamenting that he hadn't been suspended for a flagrant foul at Ohio State on Wednesday.
McClinton, who joined Miami's career top-20 scorers in the first half, made a couple of three-pointers. More than once, he drove by his man and got to the basket for a layup before Patterson could contest the shot.
Dews was the surprise. He missed all five of his three-point attempts at Ohio State to lower his accuracy from beyond the arc to 16.7 percent this season.
But Dews made four of five three-point shots in the first half. He bookended his damage. He hit the game's first shot and another trey barely two minutes into the game.
Dews made another pair in the half's final 93 seconds, the second coming with 10 seconds left to set the halftime score.
"One of the things we talked about in the scouting report," Gillispie said. "The last thing you want to do is not guard a guy and let him get (on a roll)."
Meanwhile, Kentucky's offense floundered, in part, because its two main guns were silent. Meeks suffered through a 3-for-11 shooting half (two of eight from three-point range).
Gillispie benched Meeks to start the second half. "I just wanted to try something different," the UK coach said. "We were 20 down. What we were doing in the first half definitely wasn't working."
Meeks entered the half with 18:56 left and Miami's lead at 49-28. He replaced Liggins, which sparked a chorus of boos from fans presumably wanting headband-wearing Michael Porter to take a seat.
If true, those fans got their wish with 16:23 left when Porter fouled out on a hold against McClinton.
Ten straight points put Kentucky back in the game. Defense played a big role in the 10-0 run that reduced Miami's lead to 49-38. In a seven-minute stretch, the Hurricanes missed six shots and committed two turnovers.
"We lost a little of our rhythm," Haith said.
Meanwhile, UK fed off Miami's quickening heartbeat. Patterson hit a jumper from the foul line, then cut for a short banker to get the run started.
As the crowd grew louder, Perry Stevenson and Patterson dunked to complete the run.
Kentucky missed a chance to get closer when Stevenson, standing alone at the basket, couldn't catch Liggins' pass. "I've got to get the butter off my hands," Stevenson said.
The Cats finally got within single digits with 8:21 left. After McClinton missed an open three-pointer, making him to that point 1-for-7 in the half (0-for-3 from beyond the arc), Liggins hit a contested fast-break shot in the lane to bring Kentucky within nine, 54-45. That marked UK's first single-digit deficit since the 5:25 mark of the first half.
Kentucky got as close as 56-52 on Meeks' fast-break layup. Then a determined McClinton drove for a layup that stemmed the tide.
Unbelievably, UK rose from the dead thanks to Miami's missed free throws. The Hurricanes missed six straight down the stretch, four by Dews, who had earlier extended his streak of consecutive makes to 30.
After Dews missed two with 1:06 left and Miami leading 65-60, a freshman mistake cost Kentucky. Liggins launched and missed early in the possession.
"We all make mistakes," said Patterson, who unwittingly summed up UK's game.