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Jeff Eisenberg

Kentucky's recurring road woes raise questions entering March

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Watch enough Kentucky road games this season, and you'll notice that the story arc typically follows a predictable formula.

First the Wildcats express hope before the game that they'll finally be able to prove they can win on the road. Then they make enough late-game blunders to keep a lesser-talented team within striking distance. And finally they miss a potential game-tying or game-winning shot at the buzzer, enabling the home crowd to celebrate at their expense.

The latest example came Wednesday night at Arkansas when freshman Brandon Knight missed an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal a 77-76 overtime loss to the previously struggling Razorbacks.

Missouri and Washington are two other Top 25-caliber teams that have struggled on the road in conference play, but even they have fared better than the Wildcats. Kentucky is now 1-6 on the road in SEC play this year, the most conference road losses the Wildcats have suffered since the 1991-92 season.

What's most exasperating for Kentucky is that the six games it has lost on the road in the SEC have come by a total of 18 points. By contrast, last year's freshman-heavy team was 7-2 in true road games and 8-0 in games that went to overtime or were decided by five points or less.

Much of the postgame complaints Wednesday centered on DeAndre Liggins missing a wide-open Josh Harrellson under the basket on Kentucky's final overtime possession, but the Wildcats appear to have several recurring problems.

Kentucky continues to get beaten on the glass to key offensive rebounds by teams who are either bigger or hungrier for the ball. Doron Lamb was benched for the latter stages of regulation and the overtime session on Wednesday because John Calipari was dissatisfied with his defense. And five Wildcats played 39 minutes or more on Thursday because newcomers Eloy Vargas and Stacey Poole have not performed well enough to make Calipari comfortable extending his rotation beyond six players.

There's no doubt that Kentucky's talent will still make it a scary team in the NCAA tournament, yet it's looking increasingly likely that the Wildcats may not earn an especially favorable seed. They're currently projected as a No. 5 or 6 seed, but they still have home games against Florida and Vanderbilt remaining in addition to a road test at Tennessee in the season finale.

The good news for Kentucky is that it will be in the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens the rest of the regular season. Even so, it probably wouldn't hurt the Wildcats' confidence to win at Tennessee and enjoy some success away from Rupp Arena in the SEC tournament as well.

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