The sky is falling...

By: Steve Moss
By: Steve Moss

For the first time since 2000-2001, and for only the third time since 1926, the basketball Wildcats will start the season 0-2. Kentucky's 77-58 loss at North Carolina on Tuesday has sent some among the Big Blue Nation into a frenzy, much like Chicken Little, thinking the sky is falling, even before the season has begun.

For the first time since 2000-2001, and for only the third time since 1926, the basketball Wildcats will start the season 0-2.  Kentucky's 77-58 loss at North Carolina on Tuesday has sent some among the Big Blue Nation into a frenzy, much like Chicken Little, thinking the sky is falling, even before the season has begun.

Hosts of call-in shows, like WLAP's Dick Gabriel, have been busy urging fans in off the ledge.  Two games doesn't a season make, but it's good for business.

Much like last season, Billy Gillipie's first in Lexington, the Cats again are off to a sluggish start, figuratively speaking.  One of the coach's concerns is that his team has started slowly, literally.  That was apparent in UK's season-opening loss to VMI, when the Keydets knocked in seven of their first eight three-pointers.

VMI and North Carolina exposed Kentucky's weaknesses, including overall quickness and athleticism.  The Cats had trouble with transition defense, as opposing players sprinted past for easy buckets.

More alarming, perhaps, is the fact the Wildcats haven't taken care of the basketball.  Including the two preseason games, the Cats have turned it over an average of 23 times a game.  And the number of errors has increased with each game, from 17 against Ouachita Baptist to 28 in Chapel Hill.

Gillispie said guard play would be an issue and it is.  Jodie Meeks has been outstanding at the two-guard position, showing he's fully recovered from the nagging injuries that sidelined him for 20 games last year. 

Derrick Jasper's transfer has given Michael Porter an opportunity to run the show, but Porter has been tentative, at best.  It appears Porter has lost some confidence in his abilities.

Gillispie has high hopes for freshman DeAndre Liggins, but inexperience is Liggins' biggest obstacle.

Both Liggins and newcomer Kevin Galloway have struggled with Gillispie's offensive expectations.  Both have shown the ability to be really good lead guards, as Gillispie chooses to call the position.  But it's not going to happen soon enough for Wildcat fans.

Same for Darius Miller.  The freshman from Maysville is adjusting to the college game, but has shown tremendous upside, according to Gillispie.  The coach says Miller has a very high basketball IQ and eventually will be a really good player at Kentucky.

Another freshman, Donald Williams, has struggled mightily with Gillispie's offensive and defensive sets. 

Big man Josh Harrellson reminds some (including yours truly) of former Cat Mark Pope.  Harrellson is a guy who can set a mean pick, then step out and drain a 20-footer.  But unlike Pope, who played on that incredible 1996 National Championship team, Harrellson hasn't shown consistency in his effort.  Gillispie, a stickler for details, is one who believes in the adage that "you play like you practice."   The coach grills the junior college transfer during practices, as well as others, about the virtues of going full-speed on every play.

His practices are high energy, high intensity workouts.  They're not for the faint of heart.  He requires guys to understand their roles and be accountable for their actions.  Gillispie doesn't shout or yell at his players, but instead, quizzes them if mistakes are made, demanding answers and quick recall.  The coach says he wants his guys to think, not just rely on muscle memory or go through the motions.

Gillsipie's comments and coaching style can be biting, confrontational, even sarcastic.  But former Cats like his style.  The great Jack Givens, while addressing a group of coaches attending Gillispie's clinic, said he's satisfied with Gillispie's hire and trusts the coach's approach.  Givens said he judges a coach not by wins or losses, but by the improvement players make over the course of a season.  Givens points to UK's late run in conference play last year as a sign that Gillispie is the right man for the job.

UK assistant Jeremy Cox said Dan Issel likened Gillispie to Adolph Rupp. 

So while it may seem as if the season is unraveling after just two games, patience is urged.  True, the Cats should never lose at home to VMI, but they were soundly beaten, on the road, by the best team in the country (UNC), who was hitting on all cylinders.  Gillispie said afterward that his team isn't as bad as the scores would indicate and is optimistic that the Wildcats will surprise many when it all comes together.

So, come in from the ledge, Wildcat fan.  Give this team a few more weeks to iron out some of the kinks.  And go tell Henny Penny it's safe to look up, at least right now.

Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.

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