COLUMN: Lamb’s injury could disrupt team more than expected

ATLANTA—The Cats are on a roll as of late, winners of five straight games, and playing their best basketball of the season, there’s no question about that.

However, there is the question of whether another roll, the one that resulted in UK freshman guard Doron Lamb spraining his left ankle of the Cats’ Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal win versus Alabama, will disrupt UK’s momentum, particularly for the SEC title game Sunday afternoon.

Lamb has flourished in a starting role the past eight games, has started putting more effort into his defense and rebounding and has been red-hot in this tournament, shooting 65 percent from the field. The Queens, N.Y., native has also single-handedly kept UK’s offense alive for stretches of time in this tournament, while fellow freshmen Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones—also ailing with an ankle injury—have struggled offensively.

“(Lamb’s) on a roll right now, he’s been hot and we just want to keep going to him and feeding the hot guy,” said Knight of his teammate who rattled off 10 straight points in the first six minutes of the game to put UK ahead six points, 14-8, a margin that the Crimson Tide never managed to get close to again for the rest of the game.

On a different team, Lamb’s injury might not be cause for concern, but UK head coach John Calipari’s insistence on playing with a six-man lineup might finally handcuff him if he’s forced to rely on little-used bench players Sunday.

In fact, Lamb was still playing in the final minute of a semifinal that was well in-hand only because Calipari has little to no confidence in his bench players to play quality minutes. Substitutes Jarrod Polson, Stacey Poole, Eloy Vargas and Jon Hood played a combined five minutes.

“If they had stopped pressing, I would have subbed with three minutes to go,” Calipari said.

If a coach can’t trust his substitutes to protect an 18-point lead with three-plus minutes left in a game, regardless of an opposing team’s press, how can that coach trust one of his subs to produce quality starter’s minutes in a championship?

So much for the “if one guys goes down, the next guy has to step up” mantra so often repeated in sports.

UK senior forward Josh Harrellson explained that Calipari was probably so focused on the game that he didn’t realize the time left on the clock, yet that the mass substitutions “could’ve been earlier, but we’re not complaining.”

Assuming Lamb is unable to play, junior guard DeAndre Liggins, currently the first man off the bench, won’t complain that he will resume the starting role he held for most of the season.

However, Liggins and Lamb’s games couldn’t be more opposite: Liggins is focused on defense first, whereas Lamb prides himself on his shooting.

“To get DeAndre back in the starting lineup, hopefully we’d be a better defensive team than we have been at the start,” Harrellson said. “You know with DeAndre back in the starting lineup, it’d be totally different because he brings a completely different element to the team.”

The most impressive part of the Cats’ winning streak, which has included wins over likely NCAA Tournament-bound teams, has been the synergy of these various elements playing together in a way they have yet to do until late in the season.

“My main job is to run the team and make sure we’re doing everything we need to do as a unit…As a unit everyone played well collectively,” said Knight, who added “we know what each other can and can’t bring to the table.”

Right now, UK’s bench players can’t replicate what Lamb has managed to do in “Catlanta.”

“I’m playing tomorrow’s game,” said an insistent Lamb, although UK spokesman DeWayne Peevy and Calipari confirmed Lamb’s status for Sunday as doubtful. “If we all do what we do, then we can win in the game.”

The problem is that Lamb might not be allowed to do what he does or, at the very least, he will be less effective at doing what he does best.

With a 24-hour turnaround until the SEC title game versus Florida, the SEC regular season champs, these hobbled Cats simply might not be able to continue rolling as they have been of late with an altered rotation.