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Loss could serve as slap of reality

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MBSK 09_10 UK_LongBeach Web 48.jpgCamouflaged crazies shook the arena, "Sandstorm" blared in the background and Devan Downey played like a 5-foot-9 Michael Jordan.

So this is what it's like to be the No. 1 team in the nation. Or at least it was.

After waiting seven years to reclaim the mountain peak of college basketball, Kentucky was toppled with 40 minutes of rattled play.

South Carolina defeated top-ranked UK 68-62 Tuesday night at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. Downey, as he's been accustomed to doing in Southeastern Conference play, took over the game with yet another sensational 30-point night.

Gone is the talk of an undefeated season. Snapped is John Calipari's NCAA record streak of 65 wins over league foes (including conference tournaments). And say goodbye to that No. 1 ranking.

South Carolina played better. South Carolina played harder. South Carolina wanted it more.

Kentucky came into the game overconfident (presumably by the voice of the nation talking them up). Kentucky came into the game lackadaisical and loose. Kentucky walked away defeated for the first time this season.

"As I sat there and watched it unfold, I just said, 'This is what happens to a young team,' " Calipari said. "Then what happened is we weren't really listening with how we were trying to execute down the stretch. We tried making hero's plays."

I don't buy into the notion (or the cliche) that a team needs to lose to find out how to win. Baloney. Did the 1976 Indiana team need to lose to cut down the nets? Did the nearly undefeated UNLV team need to experience heartbreak to march to the Final Four before losing to Duke in 1991?

But maybe, just maybe this will teach the Cats that talent doesn't always overcome hard work. This isn't to say Kentucky didn't play hard, because the Cats played their tails off at stretches. But it was evident Tuesday night that the Gamecocks wanted it more.

At least Devan Downey did.

For the first time this season, somebody got the better of John Wall. When Downey started getting to the line and the crowd was at its feet, there was a noticeable look of distraught on Wall's face. For once, the spotlight turned to somebody else.

But let's give the kid a break. He's never had to experience adversity before.  And really, Downey was just that good.

One minute Downey was going five miles per hour, the next he was going 100. It was like watching a mouse scurry between the legs of five giants.

Although Downey took a game-high 29 shots, he dictated the pace of the game. Sure, some of his shots were forced, but they were actually good shots for the South Carolina offense. All he had to do was put the ball near the rim. His ability to break down the defense left other Gamecocks open for tip-ins and offensive rebounds.

"We were saying if he makes tough shots it's going to be hard," Calipari said. "He made about three tough ones in tough times."

The tiny senior from Chester, S.C., did what he wanted when he wanted.

And-one fade away with the shot clock expiring? Check. Half-spin, change-of-direction runner off the glass? Check. Defense-splitting bank shot? Check. Downey did it all. And that was just within one one-and-a-half-minute stretch.

That run late in the second half changed the game for good. It epitomized the art of an upset. One team - one man - wanted it more.

And maybe in the process it taught the Cats a thing or two about bringing it all the time every time because Tuesday wasn't just about one team's glory and another one's lapse. No, this had some to do with effort.

Take for instance the rebounding margin. South Carolina outrebounded UK 44-40, including a difference-making 20 offensive boards. That's troubling news for a team that had an almost laughable size advantage down low. The Gamecocks were supposed to get destroyed in the paint. They answered the criticism with heart.

"I was begging them on every timeout to go block out," Calipari said. "What it meant was South Carolina was working harder than we were."

I can't tell you what's going through the heads of those 13 young men right now in the Kentucky locker room. I can tell you that Wall, despite some visible frustrations Tuesday night, is one of the most poised and confident 19-year-olds I've ever seen. I know this will only strengthen him. He'll bounce back.

I don't know how DeMarcus Cousins will react. His maturity has exponentially increased in recent weeks, but there's no telling how he'll handle adversity. He unmistakably late in the second half demanded the ball, and for good reason. Cousins finished the game with a monstrous 27 points and 11 rebounds.

"If he doesn't play, we get beat by 20 today," Calipari said.

I do know that Patrick Patterson will be the voice of reason in the locker room. If there was a time to lean on the team leader - because they surely didn't in the second half - this will be it. He must quickly regroup this team and make the players realize that one regular-season loss is far from the end of the world.

I also know that he must - must! - start demanding the ball more. For the second time in three games, Patterson failed to register a shot in the second half. Once again, unacceptable.

Folks, the sky isn't falling. It's one loss. Kentucky is still one of the favorites to win the national title. And I would rarely bet against a Wall-led team.

But the key from any loss like this is learning. Learn what it's like to play with a target on your back. Learn to shut out the overwhelming praise in your ear. Learn to put down the newspaper articles. Learn to play with the eyes of the nation on you. And learn to play like you're No. 1.

It is, after all, what this team is playing for. One abbreviated week at No. 1 won't affect the ultimate goal to be No. 1 at the end of the season - if they learn from these mistakes.

"No. 1 is not a championship," Cousins said. "We're playing for a championship."

Maybe you don't have to lose to learn how to win, but maybe these inexperienced, young guns needed a little bit of a slap of reality.

"We've got to mature," Cousins said. "We've got to work harder. We've got to come in more focused. We've got to play every game the same."

If they didn't know before, they do now: Being on top is fun, but it sure isn't easy.

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9 Comments

Not to defend weak play, but I must say the second half officiating was some of the worst I had seen. They called an unusually tight 1st half, but let the Gamecocks run amuck in the second half only calling half of the fowls I saw.

Hey...blaming the officiating makes you sound like a UNC Chapel Hill fan from the 4-corners days. With every loss was an excuse. Gimme a break! Last night's loss was the curse of Obama of congratulating the Cats pre-game for the #1 ranking...4 straight losses for Obama (at Virginia, at New Jersey, at Massachussetts, and now at Kentucky). Nice job!

They are still the best team in my heart and even if they had a losing season I would still wear UK to school pretty much everyday!!!!!!!!!!!Everyone should look at my brothers art work!He is drawing the team !st up was D.Cuz!!http://marxist-tsar.deviantart.com/art/DeMarcus-Cousins-151517104.Check it out:>

I knew Obama was a bad influence. Now we're spreading the wins!

Come on people. Get real. It's awfully hard to make a layup while you are getting hammered. The fact is the officials swallowed their whistles in the 2nd half on one end of the floor. A fowl on one end was a blocked shot at the other. Don't blame the officials? Those three guys in stripped shirts have more to do with the outcome of a game when they don't do what they are paid to do. Truth is still the truth no matter what you think!

I know it's not in his vocabulary, but Coach Cal should have tried a little zone defense to keep Downey from driving. He was 6-29 from the field so maybe he wouldn't have shot so well if he was set, and away from the rim.

What? Seriously? Did you guys truly watch the game or watch through our blue & white glasses? We lost for two reasons: 1) Downey was a man on a mission against us...AGAIN and 2) We didn't do the obvious thing which was just throw it inside all game. South Carolina had no strength, just two skinny tall guys. Cousins could have scored at will all night, racked up 50 and fouled all their bigs out. Coach Cal said USC had a good gameplan in denying our guards to score -- so we should have developed a gameplan to take advantage of our strength and height.

Coach Cal was also right - when you get a steal at midcourt and miss a breakaway layup, that's a lack of focus. Finish the play, you have all season to get highlights! The loss was deserved, not given to us by the refs.

What? What game were you watching! They took the ball inside almost every play...no outside game at all to open up the paint. How many 3's did Kentucky make (3) or South Carolina (4) for that matter? Kentucky did throw it inside most of the game but instead of the fowls being called they were blocked shots in the ref's eyes. From the closeup replays that were shown there was a lot of body contact; especially on Cousins and Wall. Kinda hard to score being hammered. Sure, Kentucky didn't play up to their ability but thats not what decided the game, the fowl line did; or the lack of getting to the fowl line as they should have, did. Blue and White glasses? More like Black and Blue glasses.

Could someone please teach KY fans how to spell "foul"?

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  • Dukie: Could someone please teach KY fans how to spell "foul"? read more
  • Larry: What? What game were you watching! They took the ball inside almost every play...no outside game at all to open read more
  • Scott: What? Seriously? Did you guys truly watch the game or watch through our blue & white glasses? We lost for read more
  • Ken: I know it's not in his vocabulary, but Coach Cal should have tried a little zone defense to keep Downey read more
  • Larry: Come on people. Get real. It's awfully hard to make a layup while you are getting hammered. The fact read more
  • Joel: I knew Obama was a bad influence. Now we're spreading the wins! read more
  • Meagan11: They are still the best team in my heart and even if they had a losing season I would still read more
  • Mark: Hey...blaming the officiating makes you sound like a UNC Chapel Hill fan from the 4-corners days. With every loss was read more
  • tony: Not to defend weak play, but I must say the second half officiating was some of the worst I had read more