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By Les Johns | @KernelJohns
The Cats lost a game they couldn’t afford to lose and are now effectively on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer scored 11 points and led the Cats to a commanding nine-point halftime lead.
Wiltjer was all-everything for the Cats in the first half: hitting 3-pointers, posting up his defender and hitting runners.
That was, until he inexplicably didn’t get another shot at the basket until the Cats found themselves down, 49-46, with 3:22 left in the game.
Wiltjer was isolated down low down the stretch, but it was too little, too late.
In the meantime, UK freshman guards Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin combined for 5-of-24 shooting in the loss.
Goodwin was praised by teammates for his decision making in Saturday’s win against Auburn.
“He just played within himself and that’s what we have been trying to get him to do,” said junior guard Jarrod Polson. “He didn’t really take any bad shots. He kind of ran the team, he was looking for other people in transition.”
Polson won’t be able to say the same about Goodwin’s play Tuesday. Goodwin reverted back to his old ways quickly; passing up opportunities to involve his teammates and trying to take multiple defenders to the hole by himself.
The result was a stat line that featured 2-of-12 shooting from the floor and three turnovers.
UK has very little chance for success when Goodwin plays like that.With Tuesday’s loss, the rest of the season just got significantly tougher for the Cats.
They will be happy to return home to Rupp Arena on Saturday to face an LSU team that is winless in the conference.
After that, things get dicey.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Cats slated to be a 10-seed in his latest Bracketology released Tuesday. Chances are, after this loss, the Cats are either considered one of the last four in, or one of the last four out.
On the other side of the coin, the Crimson Tide likely have moved into the field with their win.
The loss now means that games against Missouri, Ole Miss and Florida are much more important. Those are the only chances the Cats have to secure what the tournament committee would consider quality wins. To get off the bubble, the Cats will have to now win most, if not all, of those games.
The Cats were in control and went away from what was working. If they want to avoid joining the 2010 North Carolina Tar Heels on the list of defending national champs to miss the big dance, they must spend the rest of their season fighting for their tournament life.