Slow-down style of play not Cats’ intention

By Travis Waldron

Twenty thousand orange-clad Tennessee fans stood still. Five blue jerseys stood just as still. One orange ball pounded into the floor, over and over again. All as the big orange numerals above the basket ticked closer to zero.

Countless times, Tennessee fans had gotten their hopes up. Another shot clock violation was coming. And countless times, UK players dashed their hopes with the quietest sound in the gym: the swish.

UK ran an imperfect style of basketball to perfection Sunday in Knoxville, stalling for 34 seconds at a time before finally hitting pay dirt. Doing enough — just enough — to hang with the Volunteers for 59 minutes and 57 seconds.

But slowing the game to a crawl wasn’t the game plan going in, said head coach Billy Gillispie.

“We haven’t set out at any time to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to hold the ball or we’re going to be slow,’” Gillispie said. “We’re not going into the game saying we need to keep it in the 50s or 60s or 80s or 90s or whatever. We’re going to play the game as it unfolds.”

Senior guard Joe Crawford said Tennessee’s defense forced UK to slow down, and the Cats worked with what they had.

“They were pressuring us a lot on the wings,” Crawford said. “When we saw it was working, we kind of went with it, and we were getting good shots.”

Gillispie would like to run more. He favors getting out in transition, using the defense to set up the offense. But so far this season, his team hasn’t been able to do that.

The Cats are eighth in the Southeastern Conference in steals, making it hard to create easy baskets on fast breaks.

“We’re going to always try to break at the opportunity,” Gillispie said. “This team hasn’t created too many turnovers to get our defense going and scoring easy baskets. That’s what I’d like to see us get better at.”

So instead, the Cats have resorted to doing what they seem to do best: creating opportunities by using every second possible on the offensive end.

“We find ourselves going down in the shot clock a lot,” sophomore guard Derrick Jasper said. “But we have talented players like Joe and Ramel (Bradley) that can create their own shots.”

Crawford and Bradley have kept the Cats successful in situations that would force many coaches to reach for the antacids.

“They’re clutch players,” Gillispie said. “They’ve been great all year. They’ve made big play after big play. … Those guys made timely shots so far, and hopefully that continues. They’ve been everything to us.

“I couldn’t be more proud of two guys.”

On a team that’s seen its bench shortened due to injuries — Bradley, Jasper and sophomore forward Ramon Harris all played 40 minutes at Tennessee — a slow tempo may seem like the only way to keep the Cats in games against deeper teams.

But Gillispie said the Cats just need to keep doing what they do well.

“Our team has played pretty much to their strengths,” Gillispie said. “We’ve maximized our opportunities to get five guys back and play five-on-five.”