LEXINGTON, Ky. - Three pictures on the cover of the Kentucky basketball media guide seem to capture the first 10 games of Billy Gillispie's tenure at one of college basketball's most demanding jobs.
In one, Gillispie is clapping his hands, staring intently into the distance. The two above it are of senior guards Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley. Crawford has the ball in his hand, searching for an opening. Bradley crouches, mouth agape, eyes focused straight ahead.
Perhaps it's telling that the coach and players are looking in different directions. The giddiness that surrounded Gillispie's arrival, when he took over for Tubby Smith in April, has been replaced with anxiety as the Wildcats and their hard-spun coach struggle to get to know each other.
Kentucky (5-5) is off to its worst start since 2000-01 as injuries and off the court problems have frustrated the coach and left his team's confidence shaken.
While many fans are quick to place the blame on his predecessor, nicknamed 'Ten-Loss Tubby' during his decade leading the Wildcats, they didn't expect Gillispie to be halfway to the 10-loss mark just 10 games into the season.
Though the Wildcats managed to snap a four-game losing streak - the school's longest in 17 years - with a relatively easy win over Tennessee Tech last Saturday, Kentucky has hardly played with the crispness or intensity Gillispie promised.
'I think we just haven't competed as hard as we can,' Gillispie said.
The evidence came early in a stunning 84-68 loss to Gardner-Webb on Nov. 7. Though some dismissed the performance as an anomaly, the last six weeks have seen more of the same.
Outside of freshman forward Patrick Patterson, Kentucky has been largely unimpressive in victory and looked overmatched against quality teams. The Wildcats never threatened No. 1 North Carolina and were blown out by then-No. 15 Indiana even though the Hoosiers played without star guard Eric Gordon.
While Gillispie has been quick to dismiss injuries as part of the problem, he never imagined he'd spend most of the first six weeks of the season without guards Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks.
Jasper has been slow to recover from offseason microfracture surgery on his knee, while Meeks missed six games with a stress fracture in his pelvis. Though Meeks returned in a loss to Houston, he had to sit out against Tennessee Tech due to a hip flexor.
The injuries have forced Gillispie to juggle his rotation, but they're not the only reason he's used nine different starting lineups in 10 games.
'What I want us to do is play the best basketball we can. If we make one mistake in a game, I'm going to try and correct that mistake,' he said. 'We have to understand there's not going to be a perfect game, but you have to strive for that. We're definitely a long ways from being perfect.'