The team filed in to the locker room, some mumbling thoughts to themselves, others trying to pick up a devastated teammate with words of encouragement while others were in complete silence. With our own looks of frustration and disappointment, the staff stood outside the locker room for several minutes after the game discussing what just occurred, or didn’t occur throughout the previous 40 minutes. Each coach evaluated the final stat sheet, replayed aspects of the game plan in their heads and then many of us gave input to Coach Pearl. Once he had heard all our staff had to say for the time being, Coach Pearl walked into the locker room and headed straight to the dry erase board, as he does after every loss, to write down his main thoughts and keys to the loss for the team to see. This time he wrote:
Out rebounded: 15 Offensives Rebounds, 17 Defensive Rebounds
7 Assists/ 14 Turnovers
Some guys played well….we need more from more
Where do we go from here???
When looking at a stat sheet there are a few toughness statistics that often demonstrate who did the little things necessary to win the basketball game. Kentucky won all of those. Out scoring us in the paint, shooting TONS more free throws and dominating us on the boards all statistically demonstrated to us they were tougher. We made more field goals and had more three pointers then Kentucky but got outscored by 14 points at the free throw line. We took the ball away from contact. They didn’t. They initiated contact. We didn’t. Most notably, you aren’t going to win many basketball games in which you give up 15 offensive rebounds when you only have 17 defensive rebounds. A lot of these offensive rebounds were given because we lost out on another toughness stat: 50/50 balls.
Despite our lapses in focus and struggles to score we had our chances to win that basketball game. We once again showed part of our character by battling back and cutting the deficit to 5 points because of our defensive effort in holding them with out a field goal the final 6+ minutes of the first half. But unfortunately, once again we shot our selves in the foot with lack of focus. This time the huge momentum shifter was giving up offensive rebounds on free throw checkouts. With panic settling in amongst their players and the air beginning to come out of Rupp, those plays were devastating and completely changed the complexion of the game. In addition, during that run we just had too many turnovers that resulted in easy baskets at the other end. 14 turnovers and only 7 assists is not acceptable.
Three of our toughest guys, were three of our top performers but it wasn’t enough because their two toughest guys, Harrellson and Liggins dominated while the rest of their line up played solid. As Coach discussed with the team, some of our guys played well, but we need more from more of our guys CONSISTENTLY. He discussed in-depth how he understands some of the tough situations we are all facing. He understands its tough for a guy to one night get a lot of shots and score 15 points but the next night get the same looks. He understands it’s tough to have Scotty in the line up one night, but not have him in the line up the next. He understands that it’s tough to have Tony coaching this basketball team one night but then him the next. But, neither what he nor anybody on our staff gets is anybody’s focus being on those distractions– those excuses. As we have said over and over again, and Coach Pearl reiterated last night, the only things we can focus on are those that will benefit our team. In life you are going to face adversity daily. You are going to have to make adjustments. But those adjustments are easier to make if you only focus on the things that you can control.
Coach Pearl ended his post game speech discussing where we go from here and his demand was simple and his measuring stick was in place. How much better are we going to get from now until the last game of the regular season when we play Kentucky at home on March 6th? He then laid his blueprint to what we believe is the most efficient way to improve during these next 3 weeks; Work hard, accept your roll, trust your teammates, go to your strengths and play hard. If we bought into that the second we left that locker room, we will see improvement. If not, inconsistency rather than toughness will become the identity of this team and just the thought of that makes me sick.