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Two defensive lapses in judgment cost UK in crunch time of overtime loss to Arkansas


Andrew Harrison (No. 5) and James Young (No. 1) had important offensive plays to keep Kentucky in the game Tuesday against Arkansas, but their defensive lapses cost the Wildcats. (File photo by James Pennington)

Andrew Harrison (No. 5) and James Young (No. 1) had important offensive plays to keep Kentucky in the game Tuesday against Arkansas, but their defensive lapses cost the Wildcats. (File photo by James Pennington)

 

No. 13 Kentucky looked comfortable under duress Tuesday, playing in likely the most uninviting road arena it will play in all season and forced to match tempo with the fastest major-conference team in America according to KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo measurement. Calipari spends much time talking about how young his team is and how he’s been trying to slow his team down lately, and both of those factors seemed to be worked against at Bud Walton Arena.
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Still, the Wildcats were 0.2 seconds away from a second overtime, and even then it took Michael Qualls’ perfectly timed put-back dunk to give Arkansas an 87-85 lead with one-fifth of a second left in overtime. As comfortable as the Wildcats looked for much of the game—save a handful of turnovers early in the first half, they looked unfazed by the factors working against them—major defensive lapses in judgment allowed Arkansas points on perhaps the two biggest possessions of the game: the Razorbacks’ last scoring possession in regulation, and their last scoring possession—the game winner—in overtime.

 

First, in regulation: The two teams were tied at 71, and Alandise Harris held the ball near the top of the key with the game clock nearing 10 seconds and the shot clock nearing zero. James Young was guarding him. Harris, just right of the top of the key, took the dribble left with his left hand and sprinted past Young toward the basket right at the center of the court. Harris had an open look at the basket save for one man: Willie Cauley-Stein, one of the most effective shot-blocking big men in the country.

 

Harris had about five steps, or about eight or nine feet, of open-court acceleration—he started his sprint toward the basket just behind the 3-point line, and he jumped off his right foot about one-quarter of the way past the foul line—and he leaped for a tie-breaking finger roll. Cauley-Stein blocks 12.5 percent of two-point attempts while he’s on the floor, which is 15th in Division I among all players, but the 7-foot sophomore instead attempted to slide in position to take a charge on the 6-6 driver.

 

Cauley-Stein didn’t have far to establish position on Harris, and he appeared to get his feet set with plenty of time. But just before Harris crashed into him, Cauley-Stein swiped his right foot back, giving the illusion he may or may not have been fully set at the point of contact. He also began to lean back well before contact was made, making a subconscious (in real-time, anyway) that his goal was to try to sell a charge rather than make a legitimate defensive play. Either way, the official stationed closest to the call and with the best angle called a block on Cauley-Stein. It was Cauley-Stein’s fifth foul.

 

The call could have gone either way in real-time, but with this year’s renewed emphasis on player-control fouls that favor the offensive player, Cauley-Stein’s gamble seemed far riskier—and perhaps the result of an old habit in a split-second decision—than going up to try to block the shot. Instead, Harris completed the three-point play and gave the Razorbacks a 74-71 lead with 9.5 seconds to go, and Cauley-Stein had fouled out.

 

Kentucky would tie the game less than nine seconds later when Arkansas’ defense collapsed on James Young, who found a wide-open Andrew Harrison to hit a game-tying three with 1.2 seconds left.

 

***

 

With 10.2 seconds left in overtime, Young had just missed a potentially game-tying triple. Alex Poythress improbably tapped an offensive rebound back to Andrew Harrison, who found Young—somehow open—standing in the same spot and equally as open. This time: nothing but net. The game was tied at 82 with 10.2 to play.

 

Arkansas inbounded the ball without calling a timeout, because it had no timeouts. Young and Andrew Harrison tracked up the court on the left side while Rashad Madden brought the ball up right. Both Andrew Harrison and Young ball-watched while Aaron Harrison was on Madden on the opposite side.

 

Madden let go of his three-point attempt with 3.0 seconds left. Andrew Harrison was watching the ball alone in front of the basket, and Young was watching by himself (paired loosely with Arkansas’ Mardracus Wade) on the left edge of the free-throw line. Four Kentucky players were paired off with Arkansas players; Andrew Harrison was by himself in front of the basket at the block-charge circle, and Michael Qualls was by himself in the left corner, as the grainy screenshot below captures.

 

This grainy screenshot shows Andrew Harrison (circled in black) and James Young (circled in red) at the time the shot was released that Arkansas' Michael Qualls (circled in white) put back for the Razorbacks' 87-85 overtime win Tuesday. (Screenshot via ESPN)

This grainy screenshot shows Andrew Harrison (circled in black) and James Young (circled in red) at the time the shot was released that Arkansas’ Michael Qualls (circled in white) put back for the Razorbacks’ 87-85 overtime win Tuesday. Click to enlarge. (Screenshot via ESPN)

 

Qualls crashed toward the basket when Madden shot, a clear shot toward the basket. Young came in, too, but his approach was less hurried. He had less ground to cover, and he keyed in on the ball rather than Qualls, rushing the basket in the left of Young’s peripheral vision. Andrew Harrison stayed on the ball and did not adjust to the crashing Qualls.

 

Madden shot from right elbow, and the ball hit off the front rim (looking at the basket from mid-court, the right side of the rim) and over the basket. Harrison was out of position to get a hand on the ball, and he didn’t even jump to make a play on it. Young jumped to try to get a hand on the ball before Qualls could grab it, but he was behind Qualls and had no play. Qualls threw down the game-winning without ever having been challenged by a Kentucky player. The two players who had kept the game going to that point with crucial threes—Andrew Harrison in regulation, Young 10 seconds earlier—failed to make a play, and Arkansas had finally broken a team that wouldn’t break.


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