John Clay

Green Cats cost UK twice in clutch

John Clay
John Clay

Bob Knight often says, "You watch a game, but do you really see it."

We think we do, but maybe, sometimes, we don't.

Two plays in UK's 73-70 loss to LSU on Saturday proved that yet again.

Fans have been clamoring for more playing time for Kevin Galloway and Darius Miller. And the insertion of those two into the lineup at the start of the second half gave the Cats a much-needed spark. Yet in the end, the two inexperienced players made costly errors.

On the game's final basket, the open jumper Tasmin Mitchell hit to give LSU a three-point lead with 9.8 seconds left, Galloway said it was he who failed to make the instructed defensive switch in guarding assignments.

True, UK Coach Billy Gillispie seemed to point the finger of blame at A.J. Stewart, the sophomore who quit the team on Wednesday only to be reinstated by Friday.

In his post-game news conference, Gillispie made a reference to substituting "the wrong guy," saying that it had "got us in the end." And after UK called a timeout following Mitchell's shot, Gillispie was barking at Stewart.

But Galloway took the blame in the post-game, saying, "Defensively, we're supposed to switch ... and I didn't hear 'Switch.' I didn't feel the screen so I didn't switch, and that was my mistake, and they got the wide-open three.

"(Stewart) called it out — he didn't say he didn't call it out — I think I just blanked out, and I just zoned out and blanked out and was trying to stop my man from scoring."

Whether the fault lay with Stewart or Galloway, Gillispie said, "We were supposed to switch, and we didn't."

Watching the tape, Galloway is guarding Marcus Thornton, who has the ball. Stewart is guarding Mitchell, who tries to set the screen at the top of the key. Galloway did not "feel the screen" because there is too much room between himself and Mitchell. They never touch.

Stewart obviously thinks it's a screen and switches from guarding Mitchell to guarding Thornton. But Galloway doesn't feel the screen, doesn't hear the "switch" call, so he stays with Thornton.

That leaves two men guarding Thornton and no one guarding Mitchell. Stewart tries to get back to Mitchell when the Tiger receives the pass, giving the illusion that he had mistakenly left his man, but it's too late.

A similar breakdown happened with 1:48 left. Thornton has the basketball and is guarded by Darius Miller. Ramon Harris is guarding Mitchell. The ball is between the circles. Mitchell sets a screen on Miller. There is contact. Miller fights through and stays with Thornton. Harris thinks there's a switch and goes to Thornton, leaving Mitchell wide open for the pass.

Mitchell's shot misses, but Kentucky's old bugaboo of securing the defensive rebound rears its ugly head. Thornton enters the open lane untouched, with Miller trailing, and follows in the miss while being fouled. The free throw makes it 66-64 LSU.

Afterward, Patterson said that Gillispie told the Cats exactly what LSU was going to do on that final sequence and the plan to stop it. But the Cats didn't execute the plan. Inexperience has a way of doing that.

LSU's Thornton and UK's Galloway are both junior college transfers. But Thornton is a senior who averaged 34 minutes a game last year. He has played 906 minutes this season. This is Galloway's first year out of junior college. Before Saturday, he had played 184 minutes.

Tasmin Mitchell is a fourth-year junior who has averaged over 34 minutes a game every season, not counting last year when he missed all but three games with a stress fracture.

Darius Miller is a freshman. A talented freshman, but a freshman nonetheless. He hit the three-pointer that tied the game at 70 with 27 seconds remaining. But before Saturday, the state's Mr. Basketball was averaging 20.8 minutes per game. He'd started twice.

Last year, led by seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, Kentucky won nine SEC games by six points or less. This year, the Cats have won one. LSU has won five.

It's the little things — making the proper adjustments, following instructions — that wins those close games.

The little things we often don't "see."