By - Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service
As we leave November (especially late night November) and head into December, Rich Brooks' Gridiron Cats and Billy Gillispie's Hoop Cats are clearly headed in different directions.
Brooks' Cats are now obviously struggling to overcome injuries to key players (you can pick your poison here defense or offense) yet, all involved will remember November of 2008 as having two great opportunities at home (Georgia loss 42-38 and Vandy loss 31-24) to put a stamp on what was thought to be a rising SEC program that was oh so close to clearly jumping into that mid-level category of college football's elite conference, but failed because of sleep walking through the first quarter of both games and not finishing either game with solid fundamental play in the fourth quarter as well. Key special teams mistakes plus failed stops on crucial third and long situations may have contributed to the Cats' late season collapse as much as getting out of the gate slow and putting the offense in a hole.
Wins against Georgia and Vandy would have put a different spin on the Cats in the all important confidence and mind set department and their fortunes in K-town against an obviously inept Vol offense.
But, that's the ole if'n game as Jerry Claiborne used to say.
Now, Brooks and company have one more shot at finishing the 2008 football season with at least a winning record of 7-6 and three straight bowl winning experiences. I'm thinking probably at Memphis, Tennessee in the Liberty Bowl. We'll know for sure come next weekend who their opponent will be and where the Cats will be spending their holiday season.
November nightmare puts Gillispie and Liggins At Crossroads!!!!!!
Billy Gillispie's basketball Cats, on the other hand, put a whole new meaning to whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas or at least whatever happened between Gillispie and freshman, DeAndre Liggins, will probably stay in Vegas. According to reports circulating through the pressbox at Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon from UK media, who were in constant contact with their collegues in Vegas, Billy Gillispie supposedly asked freshman guard, DeAndre Liggins, to replace Michael Porter late in the first half of UK's game against Kansas State only to have the talented freshman stubbornly and foolishly refuse the coach's substitution rotation. Luckily for Liggins sake, the Cats survived that late night November nightmare of 31 turnovers and escaped with a 74-72 win and set up the Saturday night championship game with Big East power West Virginia.
Had Liggins left the team at this point, well, it's scary and ugly to think how this season would have progressed and ended.
Having slept on the events of Friday night, Gillispie and Liggins both evidently entered Saturday night's game with a new leash on their basketball lives toward each other because trailing 26-16 at the break, UK came out of the locker room with a new spirit and attitude not seen this young season and the comeback was on; and at several crucial points in the second half the youthful Liggins made plays to spring the come from behind victory.
During one particular UK free throw situation, when the bright-lighted Vegas hoops arena was stunningly silent and Liggins was at the charity stripe, you could clearly hear a UK fan shout at Liggins, "C'mon Dre, we need you, baby!"
Whether Liggins heard the fan or not is trivial, but it is a hard truthful fact for anyone who knows basketball and has seen this team play, would agree with.
UK secured the win hitting 11 out of 12 free throws down the stretch and playing solid defense finishing off the second half rally with a hard fought 54-43 win against a solid Division 1 opponent and securing a modest four game winning streak heading into a December schedule that will provide UK with seven games at Rupp Arena and it's annual Freedom Hall game for the UK fans that live in the Louisville area.
UK's huge faithful and frustrated fanbase has been anxiously waiting on improvement in point guard play and a turning point in the season. As the season progresses we may very well look back on Thanksgiving weekend as the turning point for both Gillispie, his point guards, and the fortunes of this particular team and season.
But, none of us will ever know what actually took place between Billy Gillispie and DeAndre Liggins between Friday night's confrontation and Saturday night's resurrection, that will stay in Vegas forever.
As should any and all player/coach confrontations. They both deserve that right to privacy.
UK Unforgetable Returns To Rupp Arena
Kentucky will play back to back home games this coming weekend. ACC power Miami who has been a Top 20 ranked team in recent AP polls will make it's first appearance in Rupp Arena Saturday in a nationally televised game on ESPN at 5:30. Then after a good night's rest UK will come back to Rupp Arena Sunday afternoon and welcome Mississippi Valley State and its rookie head coach, Sean Woods, one of the Unforgettables of that special senior class of 1992. Tip off for Sunday's game is 4:00 p.m.