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Cats need to develop killer instinct

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MBSK 09_10 UK_GA Web 08.jpgKentucky won again on Saturday, this time with a 72-67 road victory at Auburn. The undefeated dream remains intact with a now unscathed record of 18-0.

But the potential dream is going to turn into a surprising nightmare one of these days if UK doesn't learn to develop a killer instinct.

In what's becoming a troubling theme for the Cats, they let a first-half double-digit lead evaporate into a last-second thriller. For some reason UK can't seem to put the nail in the coffin when the grave is already dug.

And it nearly cost them Saturday.

"We were fortunate to win," head coach John Calipari said after the game.

After roaring to a 19-point first-half lead on Saturday, thanks to an 18-3 run, UK let off the gas pedal to end the first half. Guard DeWayne Reed, who to that point couldn't throw a ball in the ocean, hit two 3-pointers to end the half, cutting the Cats' lead to 39-26 entering halftime.

Slowly but surely, the double-figure lead continued to slip away in the second frame. Reed scored the next seven of eight Auburn points out of the halftime break, part of a 32-14 run dating back to the first half. By the end of the run, the Tigers had somehow taken what was a 19-point game and gotten it to within one at 53-52.

Kentucky's fault or Auburn's doing?

Fortunately for the Cats, despite a tie at 60-60, a barrage of Auburn 3-pointers and a less-than-spectacular game from John Wall, UK pulled out some late-game dramatics and preserved the 72-67 win.

But I have a hard time imagining all was well in that Kentucky locker room after the game.

A coach will take a win on the road in the Southeastern Conference anytime he can get it, but Calipari has to be concerned with the Cats' inability to put away an opponent when it's down. After all, leading up to the Auburn game, Calipari had voiced his concerns with the media over the last two weeks.

"I showed them tape of three games where we let people back in the game," Calipari said on Friday before practice, following the Florida game in which Kentucky let another double-digit lead shrink to mere points. "I showed clip by clip and then I went to where we made runs. There is a market difference in their defensive intensity, shot selection, aggressiveness in attacking defense. They see the difference and they need to carry it over. They are a young team."

For the record, UK has let leads of 10 points or more slip back to three points or less in the second half in six of the Cats' games this year, including the last four contests.

That, for what it's worth, shows signs of a team that lacks a killer instinct.

Hold on a second, you might say, Kentucky is undefeated.

But for all the wins the Cats are piling up, games are becoming closer and closer down the stretch. Eventually, one is going to cost UK. As the old saying goes, when you let an opponent hang around, it usually comes back to bite you.

On Saturday, Auburn had a lot to do with the comeback because of nine 3-pointers, but there were once again glaring issues that must be corrected.

For one, the free-throw shooting has to improve. When you take 21 more shots from the charity stripe - on the opponent's floor of all places - you have to take advantage. But as has been the case for much of the season, UK struggled from the line, hitting just 23 of its 35 shots (65.7 percent).

Two, where is Patrick Patterson when it's time to go for the jugular? Just when the Cats sharpened their dagger - Patterson went for 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first half - they for some reason decided to put it back in its sheath. Inexplicably, Patterson didn't take a single shot in the second half after fueling the first-half run.

That is unacceptable. Patterson's willingness and unselfishness to let the offense come to him has been admirable, but there comes a time when you take a page out of Keyshawn Johnson's book and say, "Just give me the damn ball!" It's the job of both Patterson and his teammates to make sure he gets more touches.

And three, the Kentucky youth needs to realize that those game-altering plays they make in crunch time to seal a game can be made earlier. Remember that Wall layup with just under two minutes to go when Wall sliced through four Tiger defenders and gave UK a six-point lead? How about the five straight points from DeAndre Liggins late in the game that gave the Cats the lead for good?

It's easy to say in hindsight, but if the Cats make those plays when they're up 19 and not let off the gas, Ashley Judd isn't standing on the sidelines shaking her head and the collective blood pressure of the Bluegrass can stay somewhere near normal.

"When we get up, there are certain guys I'm going to have to take out of the game," Calipari said.

In a way, it's a good thing if you're a Kentucky fan that we're even discussing this. When you're talking about giving up double-figure leads, well, you must be pretty good.

But what UK fans want and what Big Blue fans demand is perfection. If the Kentucky players want that magical season and a national championship to boot, it's an issue that must be corrected.

Kentucky has the tools to kill its opponents. Now it's time to develop that instinct.

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1 Comment

God forbid we go 18 & 1!

Yes, it is a young team, and they have outperformed any expectations, lest we forget.

Lets continue to watch them grow - as painful as it might be - and lets have fun for a change. And let the real coach - we have one now - coach.

Such drama!

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  • Terry: God forbid we go 18 & 1! Yes, it is a young team, and they have outperformed any expectations, lest read more