COLUMN: 3-step process quells Cats’ comeback on the road again

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Step one: Fall victim to a double-figure deficit. Step two: Slowly chip away into lead with clutch plays from freshmen. Step three: Come up short in comeback effort sending a hostile road crowd into hysterics.

This is the three-step process that the UK men’s basketball team has used during all four of its Southeastern Conference road losses and it failed to break this cycle Saturday night in a 70-68 loss against No. 23 Florida; freshman guard Brandon Knight missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

After erasing a 13-point deficit with a 17-3 run thanks to inspired play from freshman forward Terrence Jones and Knight over a roughly six-minute span in the second half, two missed rebounds snagged by Florida forward Chandler Parsons and a turnover from Knight in the backcourt that resulted in a Florida 3-pointer is what UK head coach John Calipari, Jones and Knight pointed to as the difference in the game.

“They deserved to win the way we played, we gave ourselves a chance, but I think (we)’re getting tired of the finishes,” Calipari said. “We just played four out of five games on the road and with this young team it’s just hard—every game is a white-out, red-out, orange-out, black-out, something’s happening and it’s sold out.”

After all, it shouldn’t be surprising that a crowd of 12,633, an O’Connell Center record, wearing “Rowdy Reptile” T-shirts and ecstatic for ESPN College GameDay festivities on campus created some difficulties for one of its most bitter SEC East rivals and thus, a higher likelihood for error; however, when multiple games are lost because of self-inflicted mistakes, chalking the loss up to poor luck or a multitude of excuses is no longer an option.

Calipari has said previously that every away game is the other team’s Super Bowl, but that can’t be used an excuse for not winning games on the road that could (and some will argue, myself included, should) have been won. If anything, the team should be getting accustomed to facing these hostile crowds.

“I feel like it should motivate us, just to know that every team we’re playing is selling out,” Knight said. “I think we should take it as a compliment to know that they want to see the joy out of seeing us lose.”

With such a short bench, maybe the fatigue factor is more important than the rowdy roads fans then?

“You can be fatigued and tired after the game,” said Jones, who refused to attribute his team’s falter down the stretch to playing too many minutes in essentially a six-man rotation.

What about finding the silver lining in all these devastating away losses, that’s a positive right?

“If you don’t come up with the win, that’s the most important thing no matter how you played or how your teammates.” Knight said. “So I don’t feel very good right now.”

The Cats refuse to make excuses in explaining their road losses, yet always resort to continuing to repeat the three-step process, which is simply not the formula for success on the road.

The best news for UK, which ironically has the most wins in the SEC away from home (50) since 2000 to take from all their road lumps is that the toughest stretch of road games this year is finished.

“Finally we get some home games,” Calipari said.

But eventually, UK will be forced to win away from home.