Missed opportunities lead to a missed opportunity for UK in Atlanta


Kentucky sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones comforts freshman guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after missing the final shot during the game against Kansas State in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Friday, March 23, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia. Kentucky was defeated 61-58. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

UK’s season ending loss in the Sweet 16 can be summed up in two words: missed opportunity.

The Cats had a favorable path to the Final Four, and two chances at the end to win or tie the game, but they weren’t able to convert on any of them and fell to Kansas State 61-58. 

“I should have called that time-out late with 19 seconds to go, but we had worked on something, and I thought we could catch them off guard,” John Calipari said. “Veteran team, should have called a time-out.”

Calipari previously said he should have called timeout when his team lost at home to Tennessee. In that game the Cats trailed by one with 26 seconds left, and Tennessee forced a turnover that led to a game-sealing Admiral Schofield dunk.

UK’s fate wasn’t decided by a turnover against Kansas State; instead, the Cats got two three-point looks at the end, but none of them hit the bottom of the net.

The first was a three from Quade Green, but that wasn’t the original plan for the play.

The plan was to get Kevin Knox open for a shot, but the play broke down and Green ended up shooting a three, which he missed. 

“I just hurried up a shot, see if it would go in, air-ball,” Green said. 

The Cats would get one more chance with seven seconds left trailing by three, and they drew up a play to get Wenyen Gabriel open for three.

Once again, the play broke down and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was forced to heave the last-second shot that couldn’t save the Cats’ season.

“They did a really good job defensively staying on Shai, but the last play was to Wenyen,” Knox said. “I’m pretty if he had got a look at it, he would’ve knocked it down, I’m pretty confident in him but it was kind of slow developing and Shai had to take the shot.”

Gilgeous-Alexander struggled for the first time all postseason, as the defense did a good job keying in on him and not allowing him to make the plays he usually does for UK. 

Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 15 points, but 13 of those came in the first half. Gilgeous-Alexander also committed four of his five turnovers in the second half. 

“It was a physical game, and it kind of got us a little out of rhythm, and it wears you down,” Calipari said. “I mean, I thought Shai got worn down.”

PJ Washington picked up some of the slack, scoring 18 points and grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds, but what most will remember from Washington’s game was his 12 missed free throws on 20 attempts.

“If I made the free throws, we win the game, so that just says it all right there,” Washington said.

It’s hard to win games when a team doesn’t execute its final plays, or leaves 15 points of missed free throws off the board, and that all came back to haunt UK when the final buzzer sounded.

Many thought the Cats would be on the winning end of the final buzzer with their supposed easy path to the Final Four, but as the NCAA Tournament has proven, anything can happen.

“We were pretty confident coming into this game, we worked hard all season, but sometimes it just don’t work out,” Knox said. “We were the favorite coming into this game, but it’s March Madness, anything can happen.”