UK's season is over. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
I was very pleasantly surprised by the run that UK put together in the NCAA Tournament. After a regular season marked by inconsistencies, the team finally got things together during the SEC Tournament and that carried over into the NCAA. Everyone talks about the "Tweak" that Coach Cal put into the offense, and I am sure that helped. I think that the main reason for the turnaround was the realization that this year was on the verge of being completely wasted, and that only coming together would make things better.
Coach stressed to this team all year long about playing as a unit, but old habits are hard to break for a team full of star players who never had to rely upon others to get things done. The individual talent was there, but the combined effort took a long time to come about. I give Coach Cal all the credit in the world for staying patient and believing in his players until they finally understood what he was talking about.
Monday night's game was what happens when a team finally runs into another team that also believes that they have what it takes to be a champion. UConn did the things that were necessary to beat UK. UConn barely out-rebounded UK, and that was the first time that UK had that happen to them in the tournament. UConn accomplished this due to their players and coaches putting them in a position to win the game.
The other thing that sealed UK's fate was free-throw shooting, or more accurately, the lack of it. While UConn was absolute money at the stripe, UK floundered badly. This was not the referee's fault, and those who blame the officials need to just shut up. Giving a team an opportunity to make a point at the line and then having the team fail to take advantage of it if the responsibility of the coach and players for not taking that advantage. Would the game have been different had UK made more of their free throws? I think so, but that is not a guarantee that the outcome would have been different.
Coach Cal has teams that historically have a tough time at the charity stripe. This is not a surprise to those who watch the team. I wish that I knew what it would take to make those players more reliable at the line.
This is the hard part of the post to write. I have held my tongue all year long about this. I find it obscene when so-called fans will use the anonymity of the internet and talk radio to take personal shots at 18-19 year old kids over a game or a season. Since the vast majority of these character assassins could never hope to play college athletics, they feel that they must justify their sad little lives by ripping on other people. I am guilty of criticizing the team at times, but not individuals. I see a big difference between the two. I also tried to express my support to the team even when I was upset with them, but so many just took advantage to take shots without justification.
Most people have the basic understanding of what it takes to play college basketball at a high level. The UK program only exaggerates that problem. A UK player will have their every move over-analyzed and criticized by people with no qualifications at all to judge. Yet these people always want to proudly associate themselves with the program and proclaim their loyalty and "true fan" status. I call this trying to have things both ways. You can support the team and players and still be critical, but not at a personal level because that is grossly unfair to those players. UK has some of the best fans in the world, but alas, they also have some of the very worst as well.
This brings me to the subject of Rex Chapman. I have never met Chapman. He arrived at UK as I was nearing the end of my time there. He was the Great White Hope back in the day, the Owensboro kid who wanted to play at UK. I do not understand his motivations behind tweeting something stupid right at the beginning of last night's Championship game like this:
Was messin' 'round on Sat nite re: Cal. But word is - win or lose 2nite - it's a #DoneDeal ...Cal 2 La-La-Land 2 coach Mamba's Lakers. #NoBS
I don't know what prompted Chapman to say this. I could not care less. I do have a problem with something like this being said when it was said. If Chapman is such a "UK Insider" then he seems to have an odd agenda. Regardless if this is true or not, it seems like nothing more than a desperate plea for attention from a middle-aged former player. I find it pathetic.
I will spend the Summer and Fall waiting for next basketball season and another UK team to make their own memories. Until then, GO BIG BLUE!!!!!