By Dick Gabriel
Big Blue Sports Network
Unless something incredible happens soon, it will be known for quite some time as “The Lost Weekend.”
Ordinarily, literary references can be fun. But in this case the subject is misery – back-to-back losses suffered by the Wildcats and the nation that follows them. It was a basketball-football double dip of emotions that left UK fans confused, sad and bewildered.
On Friday night they saw their favorite basketball team watch helplessly as a team full of undersized over-achievers work out their frustrations on one of the nation’s marquee basketball programs.
The Keydets of Virginia Military Institute likely signed with VMI because, not unlike Richard Gere’s character in An Officer and a Gentleman, “They had nowhere else to go.” The fact that, like Gere’s Zack Mayo, the Keydets periodically wear military uniforms adds to the coincidence.
They endure “Hell Week” as freshmen and have to deal with something called the “Rat Line” – which likely is to be expected when you enroll at a military school, whether you’re there to play ball or pursue a career with weapons, not sporting goods.
But on that Friday, the scarlet of their uniforms had to match the faces of some of the 23,000-plus who packed Rupp Arena. Kentucky fans were embarrassed and angry as their team helplessly watched VMI toss in three-pointers and run out for easy layups.
This was supposed to be a UK team that picked up where it left off last season – a unit that ground its way to 12 wins in 16 regular-season Southeastern Conference games.
But a majority of its toughness left when Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley finished their careers, and Derrick Jasper took his basketball (and his still-gimpy knee) and went elsewhere. It was not a coincidence last season that Kentucky’s success began when Crawford and Jasper got healthy.
The trio played so well that even when Patrick Patterson went down, the Cats remained viable. They were anything but on Friday.
They missed the outside scoring threat provided by Crawford and Bradley, the consistent offensive penetration Jasper brought to the floor and the defensive toughness of all three. VMI drove to the basket at will, either scoring layups, or dishing for wide-open threes.
Jodie Meeks was spectacularly heroic (or was it heroically spectacular?) but he couldn’t do it by himself. Patterson was shackled by his own lack of spark and his teammates’ inability to find him in the low post.
Get used to it.
While Patterson will play with much more fire, opposing teams will gear everything they have this season to preventing him from tearing them up inside. And they’ll extend their defense to whatever side of the floor Meeks happens to favoring at the moment. VMI just never got around to it, which is why Meeks rang up 39 points.
Without another consistent offensive threat, the Cats will do well just to tread water, especially when conference play begins. As UK network analyst Mike Pratt is fond of saying, “Three can carry two. Two can not carry three.”
Other players posted big numbers Friday but remember – the Keydets are much more concerned with defending our country than defending the basket.
Lack of defense was Kentucky’s problem on football Saturday, as Vanderbilt came out and sliced through what at one time was one of the top 10 defensive units in the country. During the first two quarters of each of its last two games, UK’s defense has looked worse than last year’s team, which could only hope to keep the Wildcats close until their high-octane offense could get it in gear.
The way Kentucky came roaring back against both Vandy and Georgia proved that the game plan was sound and that the problem lay between the ears of the Cats, who seemed strangely disinterested in trying to stop a Commodore team that conversely seemed really annoyed by the notion of missing post-season play AGAIN because of a loss to Kentucky. They just weren’t going to let it happen.
For the second time in as many Saturdays, the UK comeback attempt fell short because the football fell into the wrong hands. Randall Cobb’s final pass found its way into the hands of Vandy’s D.J. Moore, who did nothing but catch the ball all night long.
Commodores coach Bobby Johnson installed Moore at wide receiver Saturday night, and he made his first catch of the season – for a touchdown. It worked so well that Vandy threw it Moore during its next drive as well – for another touchdown. Add another interception (two scores, two picks) and you know why Moore was named SEC Defensive Back of the Week. And you know why Kentucky lost.
The only redeeming moment of the weekend was buried in the tidal wave of disappointment, depression and disregard. The Wildcat volleyball squad, which had lost 38 straight matches to Florida, upended the perennially powerful Gators and grabbed a share of the lead in the SEC.
More than 3,500 fans packed Memorial Coliseum, but it’s likely an overwhelming majority of Big Blue basketball and football fans didn’t know about the match. And probably would not have cared.
The league’s top spot in volleyball has belonged to Florida for each of the past 17 seasons. But the Gators have their youngest squad under head coach Mary Wise, a former UK assistant. Craig Skinner’s Kentucky team is similarly young but on Sunday afternoon, the Wildcats looked like a veteran unit as it fought back.
They won the first set, looked horrible in dropping the next two, rang up a win in number four and then pulled away in the fifth and deciding set.
So now, if they win their next two matches (at Auburn, home with dangerous Tennessee) the Cats will win at least a share of their first SEC volleyball championship since 1988. All they have to do is take care of business.
That’s something their football- and basketball-playing teammates just couldn’t seem to do last weekend.
(Former WKYT Sports Manager Dick Gabriel is a 20-year veteran of the UK radio and TV networks. He reports from the sidelines during Wildcat football games on the Big Blue Sports Radio Network. He can be heard each evening from 6-8 p.m.ET on “Sports Nightly,” on 630 WLAP-AM.)