UK still learning to win on the road

By Josh Ellis

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No. 9 UK has now suffered three ugly losses after Tuesday night’s 85-67 debacle against LSU (9-5, 2-0 SEC). In all three losses, the Cats have looked abysmal from the opening tip to the final buzzer. And the most interesting part of all three L’s – one can almost tell UK has already lost the game just five to ten minutes into the action.

They come out slow. There’s no sense of urgency or high level of energy. They get beat to loose balls and rebounds, and are lazy on defense. They settle on offense. The list goes on and on, but college basketball is a 40-minute game, not a five-minute game.

The only problem is, that five to ten-minute slump turns into a ten to 20-minute slump while the opponent has every answer for shutting down any type of UK momentum, and the opposing crowds make sure UK knows it.

So let’s take a look at each first half of UK’s three loses. It can’t be that bad, can it?


The Cats shot 12-32 (37.5 percent) from the floor while UCLA shot 14-28 (50 percent). Both UK and UCLA had six turnovers. And the Bruins out-rebounded UK 18-17.

Halftime score: UCLA 37, UK 29

UK v. Ohio State

The Cats shot 11-36 (30.6 percent) from the floor while Ohio State shot 14-33 (42.4 percent). UK committed seven turnovers while Ohio State also had seven. UK was actually able to out-rebound Ohio State 24-21; however the Buckeyes would finish the game with more rebounds than UK.

Halftime score: Ohio State 37, UK 25


The Cats shot 9-28 (32.1 percent) from the floor while LSU shot 14-30 (46.7 percent). UK had nine turnovers and LSU had just five. The Cats corralled 19 rebounds, but LSU grabbed 22.

Halftime score: LSU 37, UK 27

In each loss this year, the Cats have been down 12 points or less at halftime. They haven’t shot the ball well while opponents are shooting the lights out, they’ve been sloppy on offense and were outrebounded two of the three times. But by no means are any of those three games over – the Cats can fight back in the second half and dig themselves out of a hole.

Except they don’t.

The Cats get opponents right where they want them midway through the second half by cutting the lead to a two-possession game, then immediately get blown back away as the opponent makes a momentum-shifting play and there’s no Rupp Arena crowd to save UK.

And that’s fine for UK, those plays are going to happen every now and then. You’ve got to fight back – that’s basketball. The problem is UK comes all the way back to almost regain control, then one thing doesn’t go its way and all the air comes out of the balloon. No more fight left after that, the game is over.

The Cats are never able to get over the hump. In its three losses, UK has led by 2,3 and 2 points – all in the first half. UK has trailed for 110 minutes and 56 seconds of those 120 minutes.

Playing catch-up the entire night while there’s no crowd to cheer you on is not where the Cats want to be. It all comes back to the first five to ten minutes.

Jump on the opponent early, show them you’re here to play, fight for everything. Set the tone. That should be John Calipari’s message to his team moving forward. Calipari knows this and hopes his team will know it.

“We weren’t very good this game, but that’s the great thing about college basketball: you just are trying to get better every week,” Calipari said. “You take a step back, you learn, you watch the tape and figure our what we gotta do to get better.”