Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Texas A & M 64 - 70 Kentucky (Double Overtime) (No. 2,155)

After surviving their first SEC game of the year against Ole Miss, the Cats played their first SEC road game of the year in College Station, Texas.  The Texas A & M Aggies were 9-4 going into the game, their leading scorer was hurt, and they were coming off of a 65-44 pasting by Alabama.  The Cats also benefited from the fact that a lot of Kentucky folks had snapped up tickets, giving the Big Blue a fair amount of support on the road.  Given all of these facts, it was widely expected to be a relatively easy day for the Cats.

That did not happen.  Let's discuss first what did happen, and then what it means.

1st Quarter:  Texas A & M 18 - 11 Kentucky

The first thing that happened was that UK couldn't get its offense to work.  Here's how UK's first few possessions went:

1.  Aaron Harrison misses a three-pointer, Willie Cauley-Stein gets the rebound, and Aaron Harrison misses another three-pointer.

2.  Aaron Harrison commits a turnover.

3.  Willie Cauley-Stein misses a layup.

4.  Karl-Anthony Towns misses a jumper.

5.   Andrew Harrison misses a three-pointer

At this point, Coach Calipari pulled the Harrisons, WCS, and Towns, replacing them with Tyler Ulis, Dakari Johnson, Devin Booker, and Marcus Lee.

6.  Dakari Johnson misses a layup.  (He was soon replaced by Karl-Anthony Towns.)

7.  Karl-Anthony Towns commits a turnover.

That turnover resulted in a layup for A & M and the Aggies led 9-0 with 14:57 to go in the half.  Finally, we got this:

8.  Devin Booker makes a three-pointer (assist by Tyler Ulis).

Booker's shot got the Cats going, but their defense continued to struggle.  Halfway through the first half, the Cats still trailed by seven, and it looked as though we were in for a long afternoon.  Of course, I had no idea how long the afternoon would be.

2nd Quarter:  Texas A & M 10 - 14 Kentucky (A & M led 28-25 at the half)

The Cats still refused to pay A & M the respect it deserved, and with 5 1/2 minutes to go, UK trailed 28-17.  (CBS helpfully informed us that this was UK's largest deficit of the season).  At this point, the Cats finally started playing the good defense, instead of the relatively soft defense that the Aggies had faced up to this point.  UK's defense was super effective -- the Aggies scored literally no points the rest of the half.  Meanwhile, UK chipped away at the lead, closing to within three points at the half.

At halftime, UK was 6-13 from three-point range, in part because Devin Booker was 3-4 from behind the arc.  But the Cats were only 3-17 from two-point range, as the Cats' front-line was completely stymied by an Aggies defense that was more physical than UK expected.  WCS and Johnson combined to go 0-6 from the field in the first half, and the Cats were not getting the putbacks that are usually a very important part of their offense.  Still, it was good that they ended the half on an 8-0 run.

3d Quarter:  Texas A & M 11 - 16 Kentucky (UK led 41-39 with 10 minutes left)

UK often plays well at the beginning of the second half, and the Cats did so again here.  WCS opened the half with a putback dunk -- exactly the type of effort basket the Cats had not seen enough of in the first half.  And now the Cats were attacking the rim, while continuing to play solid defense.  All in all, I thought the Cats did a good job of correcting their mistakes from the first half and adapting to A & M's physical play.

But the officials had adapted as well.  In the first half, when the Aggies were the aggressor, very few fouls were called.  During that half, UK went 1-4 from the line, while the Aggies were 0-3.  Now UK was matching A & M's intensity, and suddenly whistles started blowing all over the place.  To be fair, many of those whistles were blown against A & M.  The key point, however, is that we were now playing under a different set of rules.  After both teams shot a total of 7 free throws in the first half, they shot 36 in the second half.  It was basically a whole different game.  The Aggies scored only 11 points in the third quarter of this game, and five of those came at the line.

The Cats were still putting on the pressure, however, and I liked their chances down the stretch.

4th Quarter:  Texas A & M 14 - 12 Kentucky (Game finished in a 53-all tie)

A & M  got a tip-in to cut UK's lead to 43-41 with 9:34 left, and then the Aggies failed to score at all for the next three minutes of play.  By this point, UK was up 48-41, there were only 6 minutes and 30 seconds left, and I thought the game was finally under control.

Apparently the Cats did too, because they took their foot off the gas.  Meanwhile, the Aggies largely abandoned their half-court offense -- which had been dead in the water for some time -- and started trying to beat the Cats down the floor for transition baskets.  They got several, and also fouled out WCS with 4:29 left.  The Aggies continued to attack, and UK's lead was only 53-51 with 2:12 to go.

The Cats held the ball for a long time, and ended with Aaron Harrison shooting a three-pointer.  Aaron played a great game against Ole Miss, but this was not his day (he went 2-13 from three-point range in the game), and he missed.

A & M came down determined to take the lead.  Antwan Space shot a three-pointer that missed.  But A & M -- fighting with desperation now -- grabbed the rebound.  Danuel House shot a three-pointer -- miss.  Another rebound for A & M, and time running out.  This time Alex Caruso drove to the basket for a game-tying layup -- miss.  Only 31 seconds left now, and suddenly Dakari Johnson had the ball.  Terrified at the prospect of Johnson shooting free throws under these circumstances, I screamed for him to pass it before they could foul him.  And so he did, getting it out to Andrew Harrison, who was racing down the floor.

Up 53-51, in possession of the ball, and with less than 30 seconds left in the game, the smart play is to run out the clock.  But Andrew Harrison and his brother had had a rough day.  For the game, they combined to go 6-30 from the field, and Andrew missed 4 of his 8 free throws.  Now he thought he had a golden chance to put the game away.  With 22 seconds left, he went steaming into the lane and put up the sort of layup that he almost never misses.  Instead, the ball rolled all the way around the hoop -- and out.  A & M zipped back the other way, and was quickly fouled.  The Aggies struggled at the line for most of the day (they made only 16-30 free throws in the game), but this time Danuel House made two in a row, and the game was tied.  UK couldn't do much with its last shot (a long heave from Aaron Harrison), and for the second game in a row we were in overtime.

Overtime:  Texas A & M 4 - 4 Kentucky (Overtime finished in a 57-all tie)

In the last four minutes of regulation, UK went 0-4 from the field and scored only two points (both on FT's).  I had begun to think that they might not score again, but early in the OT Devin Booker got behind the A & M defense for a layup.  Antwan Space, trying to prevent the layup, literally smacked Booker in the face as he took the shot.  Booker took awhile to recover from this blow -- I would have needed a week off -- and then missed his free throw.  That was just about it for a very tired UK offense, which was further weakened when Karl-Anthony Towns fouled out with 2:51 left.

A & M put together three free throws go to up 56-55 with 1 minute to go, when an Aggie shot was blocked and suddenly the Cats had the ball.  They zipped it upcourt to Booker, who finally had the shot I wanted for him.  (For most of the day, Booker was UK's only effective offensive threat.)  But he missed.  A & M got the ball, got fouled, made one more free throw, and gave it back to the Cats with 27 seconds left.  57-55, Aggies.

The Cats held the ball for nine seconds, called time, held it for 10 more seconds, and finally tried a jump shot by Aaron Harrison -- which missed.  But this time Trey Lyles grabbed the rebound.  Naturally he was fouled on the putback attempt.  Lyles had just missed two free throws a few minutes before -- and he missed two big FT's at the end of the Ole Miss game.  Now he had to make both FT's to keep the Cats' afloat.  My expectations were not high.

Once again, my expectations were wrong.  Lyle made both FT's, and we went to double overtime.

Double overtime:  Texas A & M 7 - 13 Kentucky (UK wins 70-64)

Double overtime games are really rare.  I have rooted for UK since 1975, a total of 40 seasons.  In that time, the Cats have played exactly five games that went to double overtime.  Here are the other four:

1/31/81:  Kentucky 71, Georgia 68
3/16/00:  Kentucky 85, St. Bonaventure 80 (NCAA First Round)
3/27/05:  Michigan St. 94, Kentucky 88 (NCAA Elite Eight)
1/12/08:  Kentucky 79, Vanderbilt 73

The Cats opened the second overtime with Aaron Harrison missing another three-pointer, but after that both teams tried to attack the basket, and we finally saw some points.  Dakari Johnson made a huge layup to tie the game at 59, and then sank two big free throws to tie things at 61.  Soon afterward, Aaron Harrison was whistled for his fifth foul, and he joined WCS and Towns on the sidelines.  The score was tied at 63, there were two minutes left in the game, and the Cats had the ball.

Tyler Ulis didn't have much of a game against Ole Miss, but with almost no time left on the shot clock he NAILED A THREE-POINTER to put UK up 66-63.  A & M responded by making a free throw (and missing another) to make the score 66-64.  Lyles was called for a (questionable) walk, and A & M responded with another three-point attempt that missed (for the day, the Aggies went 2-15 from behind the arc).  Johnson grabbed the rebound, and the Aggies grabbed Johnson (on TV you could see Kourtney Robinson whacking Johnson on the side).

So with 14 seconds left, Johnson (who had already made two free throws in the second overtime) returned to the line for two more.  Now I'll be honest -- I don't ever expect Johnson to make his free throws, and I was just happy he had already made two big ones in the second overtime.  But he made two more free throws here, and the Cats were finally safe.  Booker tacked on two more FT's at the end, and the Cats had escaped.

15-0 overall, 2-0 in conference.  16 games to go.

Now what does this mean?  For decades, UK fans argued about games like this -- one bloc of fans complained about how poorly the Cats had played, while another bloc said that winning is all that matters.  Recent statistical analysis shows, however, that winning close games like this is largely a matter of luck.  In other words, in terms of how good UK really is, there is no difference between winning in double overtime and losing in double overtime.  So the UK fans who complain about how the Cats struggled in this game have the better of the argument.

At the same time, we shouldn't exaggerate how badly the Cats played.  According to Ken Pomeroy, the Cats were supposed to win this game 68-56.  There was a 1 in 10 chance that the Aggies would win.  The score was 53-all at the end of regulation, so UK's defense was up to snuff.  The offense, on the other hand, continues to struggle with 2-3 zones.  In some ways, UK's best attack against this type of defense involves offensive rebounds and putbacks -- but that requires players who are psychologically prepared to get hammered over and over again.  It also requires players who can adjust to the odd refereeing that you get in conference road games.  Freshmen like Towns and Lyles are still trying to adjust to this type of play, and the Cats clearly miss Alex Poythress here.  But there are solutions to these problems, and I believe UK has the best coaching staff in America.

In the meantime, let's enjoy being 15-0, and let's take some happiness from two close wins over Ole Miss and Texas A & M.  These were great college games with players on both teams making huge plays down the stretch.  If you can't have fun watching games like those two, you should probably abandon college basketball and take up a less stressful hobby -- like skydiving or bungee jumping.


  1. Almost every expectation and reaction with regard to a particular shot or some other game event that you have recorded in these stories this season have matched my own expectations and reactions to the same events. It makes me think how much all UK fans--even the feuding blocs that you describe--are all probably of the Cawood Ledford school.

    1. I think the UK fan base is very heavily influenced by Coach Rupp and Cawood Ledford. Almost everything UK fans believe about basketball can be traced to those two men -- which makes sense, because they were geniuses.

  2. For the record, I took a few shots at the officials in this report, but not enough. The officiating in this game was absolutely horrific.