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NASHVILLEâ€”The Cats can survive this blow, but their tournament resumÃ© canâ€™t handle many more hits.
With UKâ€™s 77-64 loss to Vanderbilt, the Cats fell to third place in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division. The Catsâ€™ loss to the Commodores was their fourth loss in their last six games.
The positive momentum the Cats developed after the last-minute victory over Florida and the road victory over Arkansas evaporated with one trip to Memorial Gym.
The Music City hasnâ€™t been kind to the Cats recently. The loss in Nashville marked UKâ€™s fourth consecutive defeat in Memorial Gym.
If the Cats were looking to erase the sour taste in their mouths after the 41-point embarrassment in Nashville last season, they failed miserably. This loss wasnâ€™t that ugly, but it was close.
Vanderbilt made 14 more free throws than UK attempted. They had 11 more rebounds and only two fewer offensive boards than UK had defensive boards. Three different Commodores scored at least 15 points.
On the surface this loss looks like a killer to UKâ€™s tournament resumÃ©.
But hold on. Donâ€™t start rescheduling your plans for the NCAA tournament just yet.
The Cats were without their arguably most talented player in Patrick Patterson. Patterson sat out for the second consecutive game after spraining his ankle with just over nine minutes remaining in the win against Florida on Feb. 10.
While no UK player was willing to use Pattersonâ€™s absence as an excuse, youâ€™d have to imagine he might have collected a few of those missing rebounds.
â€œHeâ€™s such a big part of our team,â€ junior Jodie Meeks said. â€œItâ€™s still not an excuse.â€
When asked what he would say to people who might predict a different finish to this game with Patterson in the lineup, UK head coach Billy Gillispie said it didnâ€™t matter.
â€œIt makes no difference,â€ Gilllispie said. â€œIâ€™m proud of the guys that played. Iâ€™m proud of almost every single one of them.â€
Whether Gillispie gives his team some slack regarding the Patterson absence or not, the NCAA Tournament Committee likely will.
A conference win on the road is hard to attain even when your team is at full strength. The Cats are definitely flirting with disaster after dropping another important game, but their tournament chances arenâ€™t gone yet.
Prior to Tuesdayâ€™s game, UK had six remaining SEC games. To have a realistic shot of making the NCAA tournament without making an extended run in the conference tournament, the Cats probably couldnâ€™t afford more than three losses.
Vanderbilt was a team UK needed to beat. With games against Tennessee, LSU, Florida and South Carolina remaining on the schedule, UKâ€™s tournament fate could be decided soon. The heavy lifting in the SEC is still to come.
The Cats lack quality wins, so they need to make a statement over the final three weeks.
The Cats would be well served to sweep their home slate. A loss at South Carolina appears likely, so UK will need to win at Florida.
If the Cats donâ€™t take care of business over the next five games, theyâ€™ll need to make a run in the conference tournament. If UK were to make the finals of the SEC tournament, one more loss might be absorbed during conference play.
UK didnâ€™t seal its tournament fate Tuesday, but those remaining games just got a lot more important.
Jon Hale is a journalism senior. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.