LEXINGTON, Ky. – There are plenty of potential excuses for No. 1 Kentucky basketball, like an illness that ran through the team this week and caused coach John Calipari to cancel the team’s morning shootaround Saturday, but he ultimately points to something simple as the cause of the Wildcats’ 97-92 loss to 11th-ranked UCLA.
“(Sickness) had nothing to do with anything,” Calipari said. “The factor in the game is they played better than us and they played harder than us. They had more fight than we had. They made some shots when we missed some shots. The reality of it is: We’re a defensive team. We walked into this game thinking, ‘We’re just going to try to score.’ I had a bunch of guys play that way.”
More key quotes from the coach after Kentucky (7-1) lost just its fifth game at Rupp Arena in eight seasons under Calipari:
- “First of all, you’ve got to give UCLA credit,” he said. “I mean, what (TJ) Leaf did, he basically dominated the game. We had no one, unless I was going to go big lineup, which we haven’t done a whole lot, which shows me maybe we have to be prepared for that. But he killed us.” Leaf, a 5-star freshman forward, had 17 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, a block and a steal.
- The Bruins, who came in as the nation’s No. 4 scoring team and No. 2 3-point shooting team, hit 53 percent from the field, made 10 of 23 threes and scored 97 points – pretty much right on their average. “We missed a lot of layups, one-footer stuff, but it all comes back to the same thing: we didn’t have discipline defensively. We just didn’t,” Calipari said. “This is a lesson for us. We didn’t have the energy. I had to call a timeout a minute into the game. I mean, just wasn’t the same team. … I know this: If you give them a catch-and-shoot three, they’re making that. We knew that going in, and we gave them a bunch of those.”
- Despite scoring 92 points, not far from its own average, Kentucky’s offense was also out of sync. The Cats shot just 41.3 percent overall, 33.3 percent from three. Take away Malik Monk, who had 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting (4 of 8 from deep) and the rest of Kentucky’s players shot 37.7 percent overall and 25 percent from 3-point range. “How about this one? We had 16 assists” a game after having 33 in a rout of Arizona State, Calipari said. “Why didn’t we pass today? Because it was on national television, it’s my time? We all look bad. (But) there are great lessons out of this. I wish we would have come back and won. I would have liked to learn from that lesson a little bit more. But sometimes you need to get hit on the chin, especially at home.”
- While he and the players repeatedly said they didn’t want to make an excuse, it was clear an illness that caused UK to disinfect the entire basketball facility this week and shut down the Saturday shootaround was at least some factor in UK’s energy early. “We let them out-battle us. We didn’t have the energy that they had. Now they’ve got figure out why,” Calipari said. “I talked two days about, ‘You have to figure out what makes you go, because every game we play is someone’s Super Bowl. Every game. May not be fair, but you’re here and that’s how it is.’ We had some guys I don’t think were ready to start the game. … That comes back to me. I decided not to have a shootaround. I’m not making an excuse. That was my choice. Now that I see the result, I would have had a shootaroudn this morning. I just felt maybe they were mature enough to do this. I’m learning about this team.”
- While freshman forward Bam Adebayo had a double-double: 18 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive) and 4 blocked shots, he was 4 of 12 from the field, missing many at close range. “Dunk the ball. Why you laying it?” Calipari said. “But he made his free throws (10 of 13). Other guys – Malik is not getting fouled enough. He’s trying to avoid the contact and flip balls. You’ve got to get fouls. He had no free throws. I told him at the half I wanted him to get to the line 10 times. Obviously we’re going to have to work on that and show him what that means.”
- While the Wildcats failed their biggest test to date, more are coming. Valparaiso on Wednesday won’t be a pushover after a 30-win season and with a projected first-round pick in the frontcourt. Soon after, it’s No. 3 North Carolina in Las Vegas and at No. 14 Louisville. “These are all lessons,” Calipari said. “That’s why you play a season. The great thing about college basketball is you’d like to learn from close wins, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way (and) you’ve got to learn from a loss. That’s what we’ll try to do.”