How can the Cats right the ship after 3 straight losses?


Shane Shackleford

By Shane Shackleford, Sports Columnist

After the year 2020, would you expect anything else, Kentucky basketball brothers and sisters?

After being routed by 0-2 Georgia Tech 79-62 Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, the Kentucky Wildcats dropped to 1-3 on the season, its worst start since 2000-2001.  The good news (kind of) is that season ended with the Cats inside the top 10 nationally and winning a share of the SEC regular-season title and tournament championship.

Alas, the words “championship” and this “team” shouldn’t be used in the same sentence currently.  These Cats are in trouble.  Big trouble.

But again, the good news is there is still time for them to right the ship.  But to do so there has to be some major corrections, and not just in their play.

Let’s examine the perfect storm of 2020 that has helped to expose these Cats, shall we?

Covid-19.  The pandemic has affected all of our lives without question, 18-19-year-old boys included.  It has changed the way people think and most of all act.  For Kentucky basketball, Covid-19 has reduced it to a shell of Rupp Arena and other gyms with little to no crowd or fan interaction, social isolation on the bench and traveling to and from games, and limited practice time.  These Cats have no idea what it’s like to play in front of a raucous crowd at Rupp or even a tough crowd on the road.  There is no emotion, just a practice environment.

The schedule.  The pandemic has no opportunities for the Cats to grow and develop confidence and figure out who they are.  So far, gone are the 7-8 schools (other than Morehead State) that would provide opportunities for success; now the Cats face Sweet-16 contender Richmond, national power Kansas, and a Georgia Tech squad that while 0-2 coming in, has veterans and experience.

Youth.  There. I said it.  They’re young.  Bad young.  But saying this, I’ll say it only a couple more times.  Youth cannot be the excuse as to why UK is playing bad basketball if that trend goes all season.  It will go much deeper.

There’s the storm, but here are some corrections that must be made in order for the Cats to turn the ship around.

They have to care.  This may be the toughest correction.  These players must care enough about the team to put aside the “me” for the “we.” In high school, each was the man for their team; in college, they become a part of something bigger.  If they buy into this, the other corrections become easier to implement.  If they don’t, it will get worse.  Much worse.

Get back to fundamentals.  This team has struggled with the most basic of basketball skills.  Yes, they are super long.  Yes, they are super athletic.  But that and 50 cents will buy you a can of Coca-Cola.  At the Division 1 level, everyone is athletic and long to some extent.  But good teams play winning basketball consistently, not a trip down the floor here and there.

Get stronger.  D1 basketball isn’t for the faint of heart.  You will get bumped.  You will get knocked down.  It isn’t all breakaway dunks and snowbirding for baskets.  The Cats must invest in the weight room and training table like never before, but they also have to get into their heads the strength mindset and finish plays at the rim on offense and get stops on the defensive end.

Value defense and rebounding.  The Cats seem to have little value for defense, both team and individual.  Georgia Tech attacked the Cats at will and the Cats had no answer.  UK was beaten time and again off the dribble and there was no help defense to be found.  This doesn’t work in high school, let alone college.  Good offense comes and goes, but defense and rebounding can be there every game.  The Cats must figure this out.

My final set of three is some suggestions for the coaching staff at UK.  In no way am I saying I know more basketball than coach John Calipari and his staff; I’ve just been around the game for most of my life (over 20 years as a coach), so it’s more of what I see than anything.

Use the bench.  No, I’m not speaking of playing more players because Cal is trying any combination to find what works.  I am speaking of using it to get his charges’ attention.  No effort on defense? Have a seat.  Terrible pass?  Come sit beside me.  Don’t hit the floor for a loose ball?  Get comfortable over here.  And not just for 2-3 minutes, but for a while.  The bench does wonders for effort and execution.

Cut the rotation down.  Look at the film over the first four games.  I would venture to say there are 7-8 players that will grade out the highest.  Ride with them.  Give them the lion’s share of minutes (as long as the effort is there.)  If one of them gets comfortable in their spot and production and effort dips, make the replacement.  The Cats need continuity more than ever, and it’s hard to do that playing 10-11 players.

Play zone.  It’s painfully obvious these Cats aren’t ready to play the type of man defense Cal loves.  So it’s time to adjust and play to the Cats’ strengths right now; length and athleticism.  Play a halfcourt zone that features trapping areas and smothering lane defense.  Use that quickness to jump passes and skips.  Use that length to challenge shooters.  Yes, there will be some made threes, but even the best 3-point shooters hover around 30 percent, challenge them and rebound well.

So Wildcat fans, this is what I see.  I have no doubt you have been screaming many of the same things at your TV too.  But take heart.  The season is still young, but time is ticking.


In a season where it seems many things were a struggle for the Kentucky Wildcats, thankfully their Senior Night wasn’t one of those things, at least for most of the night.


Behind “The Big Blue Wall” offensive line, the Cats had their way with the undersized and outmanned South Carolina defense, ringing up 492 yards of offense in a 41-18 victory Saturday night at a chilly Kroger Field.


UK honored 19 seniors who have helped to change the culture of Kentucky football from an SEC afterthought to a competitive program capable of holding its own with its conference brethren.  When you consider the following accomplishments by this class, it’s easy to see the shift in the program this group has created:


-They have won 36 games, most in a five-season span since 2006-10.

-They have gone to four-straight bowl games, winning a Citrus Bowl and Belk Bowl.

-They have gotten victories over five ranked opponents.

-They have ended the 31-game losing streak to Florida and won at Tennessee for the first time since 1984.


The Cats (4-6) were led by senior quarterback Terry Wilson in the victory.  Wilson had his best day of the 2020 season by far against USC, throwing for 201 yards on 17/26 passing.  Wilson also had 46 yards rushing to take his career total to over 1,000 for his career.


UK also got big games from running backs Chris Rodriguez and AJ Rose.  Rodriguez had a monster night with 139 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 79-yard run that put the game away. Rose added 101 yards and a touchdown as well.


The Kentucky passing game, almost nonexistent for most of the season, finally came through in a big way.  Eight receivers made catches, led by Josh Ali’s five receptions.


The UK defense survived a mammoth night from USC running back Kevin Harris, rushing for 210 yards and a score.  Despite Harris’ heroics, the Cats turned the Gamecocks over four times, three on fumble recoveries by Jordan Wright and Kordell Looney, and an interception by Yusef Corker.


With the regular season concluding, UK will be making determinations of their postseason bowl prospects.  Those announcements will be made at a later date.  Although the Cats have a losing record at 4-6, the only requirement for schools to be eligible for bowl games is whether the program meets their graduation benchmarks, which UK did.


Currently, ESPN has the Cats projected to be in the Music City Bowl in Nashville against Big 10 foe Wisconsin.  The bowl is set for December 30th.


Below is the game summary, courtesy of UK Athletics:

Team Records and Series Information

Kentucky is 4-6 and South Carolina is 2-8, all within the Southeastern Conference.

South Carolina leads the series 18-13-1.

UK has won the last four meetings at Kroger Field, the first time in school history that UK has defeated USC four times in a row in Lexington.

Team Notes

UK honored 19 seniors during pregame ceremonies.

For players who are fifth-year seniors (since 2016), they have won 36 games (most in a five-season span since 2006-10), gone to four-straight bowl games, won a Citrus Bowl and Belk Bowl, got victories over five ranked opponents, ended the 31-game losing streak to Florida and won at Tennessee for the first time since 1984.

Kentucky won the regular-season finale for the third-straight year, the first time that has happened in 61 years, since 1957-59.

Kentucky won three Senior Day games in a row for the first since 2010-12.

This was UK’s fourth SEC win of the season, the fourth time in the last five years that the Wildcats have won at least four league games.

UK has won 20 SEC games over the last five years, most in any five-year period in school history.

This was Mark Stoops’ 48th win at Kentucky, moving into sole possession of second place of school history.

This was Kentucky’s largest margin of victory against an SEC opponent on Senior Day (23 points) since defeating Vanderbilt 55-17 in 1998.

This was the first time in Kroger Field history that UK had consecutive Senior Day wins by at least 23 points.

Kentucky has scored at least 34 points in the last three Senior Day games for the first time in school history.

Kentucky had 492 yards total offense, the team’s second-highest of the season.

Kentucky won the turnover battle 4-0, taking away three fumbles and an interception.

This is the third game this season UK has had at least four takeaways, the first time UK has accomplished that since 2008.

Kentucky had three-and-outs on offense tonight.

Player Notes

·        Senior wide receiver Josh Ali was team captain tonight.

·        Senior quarterback Terry Wilson accounted for 247 yards of total offense tonight. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards while rushing 14 times for 46 yards and one touchdown.

He has 1,001 career rushing yards and became the 40th player in school history to reach 1,000 rushing yards.

First player in school history with at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.

He is the third quarterback in school history with at least 20 career passing touchdowns and 10 career rushing touchdowns, also Jared Lorenzen and Patrick Towles.

He is the fourth quarterback in school history to reach 1,000 rushing yards, also Derrick Ramsey, Mike Fanuzzi, and Lynn Bowden Jr.

Has 4,345 career yards total offense, moving into eighth place on the UK career list.

Wilson is now 16-8 as UK’s starting quarterback.

·        Senior running back A.J. Rose rushed 14 times for 101 yards and one touchdown, the second 100-yard game of the season sixth 100-yard game of his career.

Rose now has 1,823 career rushing yards, moving past Anthony White, Derrick Ramsey, and Marc Logan for 10th place in school history.

·        Sophomore running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed 14 times for 139 yards and a career-high three touchdowns, his fourth 100-yard game of the season and sixth of his career.

He had a 79-yard touchdown run to clinch the game in the fourth quarter. It is the second-longest run against USC in school history and the fifth-longest run in school history against an SEC opponent.

He is the second player in school history, also Mark Higgs, to have two runs of at least 74 yards in the same season.

His 139 rushing yards is the second-most in school history against USC.

He has 1,281 career rushing yards, moving into 30th place in school history.

·        Senior wide receiver Josh Ali led the team in receiving with five catches for 35 yards.

·        Senior tight end Justin Rigg caught three passes for a career-high 79 yards.

·        Junior safety Yusuf Corker had an interception in the second quarter, his first pickoff of the season and second of his career. He also had six tackles, including one-half tackle for loss, and had a pass breakup.

·        Junior linebacker Jamin Davis made 10 tackles, his seventh double-figure game of the season.

He also had 1.5 tackles for loss.

·        Junior linebacker Jordan Wright took the ball away from a South Carolina runner in the first quarter, his third fumble caused and recovery of his career.  His recovery set up a touchdown drive.

In the second quarter, he recovered another fumble, setting up a field goal that ended the first half.

For the game, he totaled four tackles, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry to go along with his fumble plays.

·        Senior linebacker Boogie Watson had eight tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and caused two fumbles.

He is the first UK player with at least eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two caused fumbles since Danny Trevathan at Georgia in 2011.

·        Senior kicker Matt Ruffolo made all of his kicks tonight, field goals of 22 and 41 yards, along with all five extra points.

·        Senior center Drake Jackson started his 43rd consecutive game tonight, tied for the third-longest streak in school history with starting lineups available since 1993.

·        Senior offensive guard Luke Fortner wore jersey No. 65 in honor of offensive line coach John Schlarman, who died Nov. 12.

·        True freshman defensive back Vito Tisdale made his first collegiate start.