Kentucky short on shooters

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

HOUSTON — For the second season in a row, pathetic — yes, not just bad, pathetic — shooting cost the Kentucky Wildcats legitimate shots at winning the NCAA tournament.

A season ago, a 35-2 powerhouse that dressed five future first-round NBA picks, lost its third game of the season, 73-66 to West Virginia in the Elite Eight, largely because it missed its first 20 shots from three-point distance.

That’s not just bad, it’s embarrassing.

On Saturday night, a lesser but still capable Wildcats squad improved to 9-for-27 from three, but somehow forgot how to hit from everywhere else, going 12-for-35 from two-point range and an abysmal 4-for-12 from the free throw line.

“We missed a bunch of open shots, we had good looks, missed a bunch of one-footers” said senior Josh Harrellson.

But it was more than that. The team’s shot selection was horrid at times, particularly by freshman Brandon Knight, the floor general charged with making the right decisions who shot 6-for-23 with three turnovers.

Fellow guards Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins each went 1-7.

One especially bad shooting night deep in the tourney can be shrugged off, but twice now, with a different set of players? That’s a trend.

This does nothing for John Calipari’s reputation as not being able to win the big one.

Perhaps, Coach Cal, it’s time you started recruiting some dead-eye shooters instead of just ridiculous athletes such John Wall, Derrick Rose and DeMarcus Cousins. Athleticism is great but, as Virginia Commonwealth proved with its memorable run, so is shooting.

Yes, Kentucky raised its three-point marksmanship to 39.7% this season from the 33.1% of 2009-10, but the mid-range game is just as crucial. And it was even worse this year as the Wildcats shot 45.9% from the field compared to 47.9%.

Which leads to another reason why Calipari’s teams consistently flame out, leading to Bluegrass heartbreak: He recruits players who have become stars based more on their natural abilities than working at the fundamentals.

These players are generally not overly concerned with developing, but seem to be more focussed on the fame and riches of the NBA. They usually leave school after one, or on occasion, two years, which means they don’t have the experience to come through when it matters or the patience and knowledge to make better decisions with the ball.

Harrellson noted as much when he said he and his colleagues were nervous and not prepared for the spectacle of the Final Four.

Sure, it’s a symptom of the college game that stars don’t stay anymore, but Calipari’s kids seem more likely than others to depart.

Yes, Kentucky’s players rightly lauded themselves for meshing and developing better than most expected — “We came together as a team, we got to a place in our season where nobody thought we would get,” said Knight after the loss — but the point is that by going after players more committed to achieving something for the school and sticking around longer, Kentucky would be more likely to get over the hump.

But that’s not the way Calipari recruits, that’s not the reputation he’s built and he doesn’t seem too inclined to change.

He’s the guy who prepares players for the NBA and all that goes with it. Not the guy who gets it done in the NCAA.

And that’s too bad.

ryan.wolstat@sunmedia.ca


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