UK basketball has hurdles to overcome

Elliott Hess//Kentucky Kernel

Three-point shooting:  All season, extended defenses and using the arc has rattled the Cats, giving this long-time fan bad memories of recent “best in the land” UK teams losing to hot-hand 3-point teams like Marquette and University of Alabama-Birmingham. This year’s Sweet 16 could possibly include the likes of Notre Dame (41.3 percent) and Duke (39.1 percent), and the tournament will hold lots of teams that can stay far away from UK’s size by camping the perimeter all game — too many to flippantly side-step this Achilles’ heel. Cinderella’s glass slipper almost always comes in size three. Remember that.

Beyond all of these, the worst thing I see threatening to topple UK is a “we’re unstoppable” pride that’s draining our hunger. We flaunted our one-loss record all the way to 27-1 with nonchalant waves of the hand, repeating, “We always find a way to win,” without looking with sobriety at the fact that we could easily be 18-10.

How? The number of losses UK has dodged this season with final minute rallies or buzzer beaters? Eight. Calipari himself emphatically informed ESPN after Kentucky squeezed past UNC to reach 8-0, “I keep telling the guys that we are 4-4 right now.”

The facts are there.

Mississippi State went the entire game without their leading scorer, 15 of the last 20 minutes and all of overtime without a nation-leading shot blocker, and endured four calls in UK’s favor in the final 10 minutes that were so awful ESPN’s “First and Ten” made a point of showing the around replays. And after barely escaping the upset, everyone walked away cozy that Big Blue pulled through once again, full of unwise confidence. Why?

After this hard road loss to Tennessee, most are writing it off as a loss that’s no big deal — either as a game too tough to pull through, a fluke or an environment more hostile than anything March will have.

It wasn’t a fluke — just a sincere, hard-fought win. We’ll definitely be playing teams as hostile in March, whether or not in an environment that bad. Going the distance will probably take us through a lower-seeded school like Butler and three legitimate title contenders in Villanova, Syracuse and Kansas.

Pride comes before the fall, UK. Stay humble, play hungry and give your best effort for 40 minutes every game, and without a doubt no one will take this title from you. Play not to lose instead of playing to win, and you’re going home early.

Get upset now, or get upset later in March.