LEXINGTON, Ky. --- As Rashaad Carruth slipped off his Kentucky uniform and traded it for his vintage Pittsburgh Steelers jersey in the aftermath of Saturday's 64-61 loss to Alabama, the freshman guard spoke as if he might expect as much playing time in Sunday's AFC Championship Game as he mustered against the Crimson Tide.
Next to none, that is.
Or so it seemed to the sharpshooter from Georgia.
Carruth, who established a reputation as one of the nation's best prep shooters in earning McDonald's All-American honors at Oak Hill Academy and did nothing to hurt that image in blistering Duke for 19 points earlier this season, saw his trend of dwindling playing time continue against Alabama, playing just eight minutes in the Cats' upset loss.
It marked his lowest minutes figure of the season and stung a little more as his watched his teammates fail miserably (7-for-30 from 3-point range; nearly half of the Cats' field goal attempts on the night) at what is known to be his specialty.
"I'm not happy, but I can't do anything about it," said Carruth, who surprisingly entered the first half with under four minutes remaining and after fellow freshman Josh Carrier, who has played in only one of UK's last six games. "I hope to play more minutes as the season goes on, but I guess we'll just have to see how that goes. It's coach's decision. I guess he's doing what he thinks is best for the team. I really don't know."
Carruth sat nearly the entire second half as Kentucky continued to struggle offensively. When he eventually got back on the floor --- with 4:53 remaning --- he immediately buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to pull the Cats within 52-48.
But two minutes later he was taken out again in favor of junior guard Keith Bogans, who wound up with as many points (5) in 33 minutes of action. That move by Smith brought a rousing chorus of boos from large segment of fans in the Rupp Arena crowd.
"Yeah, I heard 'em," Carruth said. "It tells me they want to see me play more. But it's not their decision, and it's not my decision."
His playing time and perceived unhappiness as a Wildcat has been the subject of internet and radio talk show rumors of late. Some accounts have listed him as a likely transfer at the end of the season.
"That's not true," he said. "I'm disappointed right now, but I don't know nothing about that stuff."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith bristled in the postgame press conference when asked why Carruth's playing time was so brief.
"What do you mean? I don't understand your question," he said. When it was rephrased to ask if he thought Carruth needed more than eight minutes, he proclaimed, "No. I decide who plays and when."
Smith has previously indicated that Carruth's defensive play needs to improve in order to entrust him with more minutes. That has limited his playing time to an average of 14.2 minutes to date.
"Early in the season, the big thing was my defense," Carruth said. "I understood that. But I think I'm playing defense a lot better now --- I'm working real hard every day in practice --- so I really don't know what it is."
He said he's not had any conversations with Smith about his limited action.
"I'm not the type to go beg about playing time," he said. "If I get it, I get it."
Ironically, Kentucky may have lost the game in a situation that seemed to perfectly fit Carruth's skills. Trailing 60-58 with 18.4 seconds left, the Cats called timeout to set up the game's decisive play. The set was designed to take advantage of Marquis Estill inside or Tayshaun Prince on the perimeter, but both players --- and Bogans --- touched the ball without getting a shot at the basket. Estill appeared to be nudged under the basket and turned the ball over while trying to make a desperate pass back out to the key.
Carruth could only wonder what might have been.
"It seems like nobody wants to shoot the ball," he said. "I'll shoot it. Put me in. I'll shoot it any time.
"If the ball was swung to me, I would have took it. But I wasn't in the game at that time... If we need a big shot, I think I can hit it. But I'm not getting that opportunity right now."