By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Last week I attempted to compare the success of the football team at the University of Miami in the 1980s to the success of University of Kentucky basketball today. Sure it was a stretch. So this week I will compare the Wildcats to another team – the North Laurel Lady Jaguars.
As the Wildcats fell behind by 17 points in the first half they looked like a team unsure of what they wanted to do. Had John Calipari not prepared his team for what they would face defensively against the Cardinals? That’s not likely.
What you saw in the faces of the Kentucky players looked like panic. It’s the same look that you see on the face of the Lady Jaguars when opponents turn up the press. And they do turn up the press. When North Laurel traveled to Knoxville Catholic coach Eddie Mahan said although he knew little about the opponent, he knew they would be pressing if any emails had changed hands between coaches.
So North Laurel knows it’s coming and has practiced it, but still averages around 25 turnovers per game. Kentucky has the most coveted players in the country and they looked like an elementary team at times against Louisville.
It happens at every level of basketball. It starts with one turnover. That turnover begets another. Soon players are thinking about getting rid of the ball as soon as it touches their hands. Those of us watching are wondering why they keep throwing it to the other team. The players are thinking please don’t throw the ball to me.
It turned around for Kentucky when they found their calm. Nothing changed in what Louisville was doing. A couple of key three-pointers gave the Wildcats hope and foul trouble for the Cardinals gave Kentucky confidence. And with confidence came a comeback that gave them a chance to win the game.
It isn’t always that easy. Mahan knows his team has to find confidence to execute. Last season it came at the end of the year. There is really only so much you can do as a coach. The players have to find a way to control their emotions and execute during adversity.
Then there were the free throws. Kentucky made just 11-of-23 foul shots. That’s less than 50 percent and 12 misses in a game they lost by three points.
There is more damage done by missing a free throw than the points it costs your team. It also weakens a team’s confidence. You see a change in body language; heads start to drop a little.
Two small changes would have been the difference in a win or a loss for UK. It could also be the difference in how the Lady Jaguars finish the season.