John Clay

John Clay: Despite loss, UK basketball made some noise of its own vs. Kansas

Kentucky Coach John Calipari came out onto the court before his the Cats’ game against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari came out onto the court before his the Cats’ game against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday in Lawrence, Kan. The Wichita Eagle

Excuse me? Can you repeat that? Forgive me, but I was at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday night for the Kentucky-Kansas basketball game. Or a Metallica concert. It was hard to tell the difference. The ringing in my ears is going to last awhile.

It wasn’t just the blaring music piped into the old building at certain moments to mix with the crowd noise in an attempt to juice the decibel meter, which was displayed on the scoreboard. Visiting Kentucky made a lot of noise of its own.

Yes, the Cats lost 90-84 in overtime to the host Jayhawks, who rarely ever lose in their loud and proud building. Yes, John Calipari’s postgame was filled with laments about how his team couldn’t pull off the upset, but you had to think despite his protests that deep down in his no-spin zone the coach had to be happy with the way his team fought and scrapped against the waves and waves of supersonic sound.

Here’s the question: Can Kentucky make that last?

Saturday night was far from the final difficult road challenge on Kentucky’s 2015-16 schedule. The Cats travel to Tennessee on Tuesday. They visit South Carolina on Feb. 13. They travel to Texas A&M the following Saturday. They face up to Memorial Magic at Vanderbilt on Feb. 27. They visit Gainesville to play Florida on March 1.

If they play with the tenacity they showed Saturday night in America’s heartland, during one of the better college basketball games you will find, then they will be just fine.

Tyler Ulis was outstanding Saturday, scoring a career-high 26 points, staking claim to being the best point guard in the nation. Consider that the sophomore made 10 of his 13 two-point shots. And he’s 5-foot-9. Maybe.

Isaiah Briscoe competed on both ends of the floor, scoring 12 points and dishing five assists in a career-high 38 minutes. Alex Poythress contributed 13 points and eight rebounds. Skal Labissiere hit a couple of face-up jumpers.

In fact, Kansas Coach Bill Self was forced to resort to a triangle-and-two to slow down a Kentucky offense that shot 63 percent in the first half. The trick worked. Up 64-61, UK went eight straight possessions without a point. By drought’s end, Kansas had a 66-64 lead.

Calipari would be quick to remind us after UK found its offensive footing, the Cats didn’t execute well enough in the final 1:11 to hold a 74-72 lead.

Ultimately, however, rebounding was the difference between winning and losing. Kentucky entered the night outrebounding opponents by 7.7 per game. Kansas won the boards by 11. Kentucky came into the game rebounding 39.8 percent of its misses. Itclaimed just 17.6 percent — six offensive rebounds out of 34 opportunities — on Saturday, the fifth-lowest percentage in the Calipari Era.

Two of the biggest plays of the night were lost rebounds. Ulis had both hands on a defensive rebound only to lose it in body contact. Moments later, Kansas’ Frank Mason hit a three for a 69-66 Kansas lead. Four possessions later, Kansas’ Perry Ellis ripped a rebound away from Labissiere. The home team’s Jamari Traylor finished the possession by making one of two free throws to tie the game at 72-all.

Labissiere played 14 minutes without getting a rebound, extending a three-game streak in which the freshman has played a combined 36 minutes without being credited for a rebound. Derek Willis, the junior forward who averaged 10 rebounds over his previous four games, had five in 26 minutes.

“That’s on me,” Calipari said of teaching his players how to win at the end. “That’s my job.”

Sometimes, however, you can lose and still prove your point. In the heavy metal thunder that was Allen Fieldhouse — there should be more of these home-and-home battles between bluebloods, by the way — if Kentucky never silenced the Rock Chalk Jayhawk crowd the Cats at least made the home crowd bring the noise all night long.

If the Cats can do that the rest of the way, at home and on the road, they’ll be just fine.

Tuesday

Kentucky at Tennessee

7 p.m. (ESPN)

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