UK Men's Basketball

Analysis | UK just dropped the ball

TAMPA, Fla. — When a reporter noted that turnovers and rebounding once again plagued Kentucky in its loss to Louisiana State on Friday, guard Michael Porter had a telling response.

"You're telling me," he said.

Yes, Kentucky had trouble holding on to the ball and retrieving missed shots all season. That was beyond obvious long before the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

To his credit, Porter did not dodge personal responsibility as starting point guard.

"I've definitely been a big part of that problem," he volunteered in UK's post-game locker room.

That raised a pertinent question: Shouldn't the coach have ironed out these problems? Or did Billy Gillispie lack the tools to fix what ailed the Cats?

With Gillispie's job security the topic of intense speculation, the players defended the coach.

"Fans think that they can coach," big man Patrick Patterson said. "Come on down and try.

"Coach knows what he's talking about. He knows the most about basketball. He knows what he's doing."

Porter put the responsibility on the players, most of whom Gillispie inherited when Kentucky hired him in 2007 and charged him with replenishing the roster.

"He was put in a hard situation," Porter said. "I think coach has done a great job, as good a job as he possibly could have done.

"I think it's on us. It hasn't been his fault. He told us everything we need to do to win. It's been about us executing and playing as hard as we can."

The necessary effort was not always there, Porter said. And the Cats had to win with maximum effort because the available talent was not sufficient. In popular parlance, to win "ugly" via grit and determination.

As Gillispie said after the loss to LSU here, "one team looked like they had six of the top seven guys that were seniors or four-year guys, and one team looked like they didn't have any seniors that played."

The former was LSU, the latter Kentucky. Effort was supposed to close that gap.

"We know, if we played as hard as we did the last couple days, we'd be in a different situation," Porter said. "And I think that pretty much started around the Ole Miss game."

Porter meant the game at Mississippi on Jan. 27. The Cats went to Oxford at 5-0 in the SEC, the league's only unbeaten team. They had beaten No. 24 Tennessee (UK's only victory over a ranked team this season) and Auburn (which only looks better with the passage of time).

Then Ole Miss whipped Kentucky to start a downward spiral that included nine losses in the next 13 games.

Not that Kentucky got steamrolled. The Cats lost to South Carolina on Devan Downey's buzzer-beater, to LSU on Tasmin Mitchell's jumper inside the final 10 seconds.

"We lost some games we definitely shouldn't have lost," Porter said. "That always make it hard."

When asked about the team leadership, Patterson said the Cats lacked that "one true leader" who can make a difference in close games or clutch situations.

"We relied on someone else to step up rather than one person saying, 'I'll be the leader. Get behind me,' " Patterson said. "... We had Ramel (Bradley) do that last year. We could depend on Ramel whenever we needed a basket. When something went wrong, Ramel stepped up."

Something went wrong last season when Patterson injured an ankle and missed the final four games.

Gillispie practically turned over the team to Bradley and fellow senior Joe Crawford. The pair were experienced enough and good enough to make plays and score baskets when most needed.

Bradley and Crawford consistently took the ball and made something good happen.

That seems like a distant memory a year later.

"It has been a little bit of a roller coaster," Porter said of Kentucky's season. "We thought we were rolling good at one point. Then there was a down as low as we can go."