For a split second fans were ready to believe that the UK men’s basketball team was ready to take over the title of most dysfunctional team in the Southeastern Conference from Mississippi State.
But it took only a little more than a split second—4.4 seconds, in fact—for Mississippi State to reassure everyone why it is so deserving of that title and prove once again why the talented team from Starkville (on paper, anyway) is only slightly better than .500 for the season (13-12, 5-6 SEC).
The Bulldogs unquestionably possess NCAA Tournament-type talent, but absent-minded actions from their best players, Ravern Johnson, Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney have all resulted in these three missing playing time this season because of off-the-court issues. However, when these three were clicking in the first half, the Bulldogs looked like the superior team.
“(Mississippi State is) a talented team, they’re trying to figure out each other,” UK head coach John Calipari said.
The Bulldogs were shooting a scorching 52.2 percent at halftime and looked poised to take a five-point lead heading into the intermission, the Rupp Arena faithful were lackadaisical and confused. Then, things changed. The Bulldogs could start preparing their acceptance speech for the dysfunction award again.
MSU head coach Rick Stansbury received a technical foul for going absolutely bananas on a foul call on UK freshman guard Brandon Knight near midcourt with 1.1 seconds left in the half; Knight converted four of five free throws. Knight almost never got the opportunity to go to the charity stripe because he wasn’t listening to Calipari’s orders to chuck up a shot in hopes of a foul.
“I didn’t help our team any with that last three seconds before half,” Stansbury said.
Not only did UK edge closer heading into halftime, but momentum took a sharp turn in favor of the Cats, who were then able to start executing their transition game, according to Stansbury.
A technical foul wasn’t expected to be the impetus to play better ball, however. After UK’s loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Cats held a players-only meeting in the hopes of making sure the correct level of intensity and focus was being displayed from that moment on, but UK started sluggish forcing Calipari to call a quick timeout.
“The beginning of the game was so ugly, so passive,” Calipari said. ‘That team meeting really didn’t do what it was supposed to, I guess.
“How we were down one at half, I have no idea. We should’ve been down 15.”
Knight’s almost-error, along with an air ball and two missed front ends of one-and-one foul situations late in the game, harken back to the Cats’ inability to execute and play cohesively during the tough stretches, a key topic during the players’ meeting.
“We didn’t talk too much about basketball because (Calipari) talks about that,” UK senior forward Josh Harrellson. “We talked about being each other’s brother’s keeper and looking out for each other.”
It’s hard to believe the depths the Cats could’ve gone to with a loss: A sub-.500 record in SEC play and the first time Calipari lost in Rupp Arena as UK head coach.
They would’ve taken the moniker of most dysfunctional team in the SEC not because they are worse than the likes of Auburn or Louisiana State, but because for the first half of the game the Cats were doing so little with so much talent at their disposal. Then again, “brothers” in any family always have some level of dysfunction.