COLUMN: Cats have some more growing up to do

The Southeastern Conference West division was supposed to be awful. The veterans on the UK basketball team — Darius Miller, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson — were supposed to now take charge of late-game situations.

Good luck convincing UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari of either of the above statements after his team’s road woes continued Tuesday night.

After rallying to take a one-point lead thanks in large part to the inspired play of freshman forward Terrence Jones, who made four clutch free throws late down the stretch to initially put the Cats ahead, the Cats had an opportunity on the second-to-last possession of the game to put the game out of reach or at least force Ole Miss to play for a tie at best.

Instead, with a 69-68 lead, the Cats’ execution failed them as it seems to have done at the most inopportune times this year.

Miller passed up a fairly wide-open 3-point attempt with 13 seconds remaining and passed to Liggins, who failed to realize that the shot clock was close to expiring and eventually rushed, and missed, a long shot.

These were two veterans responsible for two botched plays. And so followed another loss to a less-talented team.

Conversely, Ole Miss senior guard Chris Warren drained the winning three on the ensuing possession with a hand in his face proving that it us up to veteran players to change the face of a game, as Calipari has suggested in recent weeks.

Jones, Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight all finished in double-figure scoring, but despite the impressive numbers from the freshmen trio, it appears Calipari makes a valid point about the importance of his veterans in winning tough games.

Before UK’s 71-69 loss to Ole Miss, SEC West teams were a combined 5-12 against SEC East opponents, and the Rebels were the worst of all SEC West teams against their East division counterparts with an 0-4 record.

This is what might be the most painful fact for the Big Blue Nation to accept, as all three of UK’s conference losses have come against seemingly inferior teams on the road.

Sure, Ole Miss’ performance was emblematic of the SEC West’s recent turnaround against the SEC East, following three straight wins by the West division teams over East division teams this weekend, but also emblematic of UK’s persistent inability to mature into a team that makes savvy plays to close out games.