COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jarred Vanderbilt finally made his debut, played really well, and Kentucky basketball was on the verge of running South Carolina off its home court Tuesday night. Then the Wildcats watched a 14-point lead shrivel over the final 11 minutes and spoiled it all with a 76-68 meltdown defeat instead.
No. 18 Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 SEC) did not make a field goal over the final six minutes and sank just 3 of 8 free throws in the final 3:46. The Cats finished with 32 fouls — their most in a regulation game since 1997 — and six of their eight available scholarship players had four-plus, including three foul-outs.
It was a mess. But finally seeing Vanderbilt (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block in 14 minutes) is a major bright spot for Kentucky, which also figures to get starting point guard Quade Green back from his three-game absence with a back injury sooner than later. So what do we make, then, of this kind of strange defeat on the road?
Here, let’s allow head coach John Calipari to handle that. Everything he said after the game:
On Kevin Knox saying players weren’t listening to Cal down the stretch: “No. Here’s what this — this started in shoot around today where you’ve got a bunch of guys that don’t know that, having a great shoot around doesn’t guarantee a great game. But going through the motions or not paying attention or not being focused guarantees what happens when the game is in crunch. We got up 14, had the ball. PJ throws a cross-court pass for not what we were trying to do. That’s not what we had called. And then Hami fouls intentionally. ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it.’ You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants. ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t grab.’ You pulled the guy’s shirt out of his pants, so don’t say that. You did it.
“All of a sudden, Nick misses a dunk, it doesn’t go right and all of a sudden you’ve got a bunch of young guys that don’t know how to grind it in that situation. You’ve got to stop the bleeding. We go to the foul line late. South Carolina makes every free throw. We went 1 out of 2, 0 out of 0. Every one. You’re going to lose the game. I really disappointed, but you know what? You’ve got to give South Carolina credit. They played like Frank coaches. They’re down and it looks like they’re going to get smacked and they never stopped playing and then they got the momentum.
“I was trying to hold back to call a timeout to get under the four because I knew we were going to need it. I probably should have called one earlier when it got to six, but — and [Chris] Silva. We did a pretty good job in the first half, but in the second half they just said, ‘We’re throwing it to him.’ My big guys stayed behind him. You won’t believe this, in every timeout, what I was saying? Don’t stand behind him. At least get up beside him so he has to catch it out. We’re not there yet. [Silva finished with 27 and 8.] Hopefully, I hate to say it — you’ve got to take some losses to get some guys to start listening. What also ends up happening in a game like this, individual players really look like they’r not very good players. When you start realizing, yeah, we’re not very good and you’re not very good, you’re hurting yourself, let’s get this right. Hopefully we’ll move on from here and we’ll get this right.”
On if he’d felt UK was living on the edge of this with late-game snafus recently: “No weren’t up that many points. Like this game was ours and all we had to do was grab it and no, the other games throughout the whole game they were always close. We were never up big. This was a different situation for them. You know, you’re up, OK finish the game. No, they just, the minute, there’s an unwarranted arrogance that we get up, we’re really good or I’m really good and I’m going to do what I’m choosing to do, I’m not going to listen to what you’re saying. And that’s what happened and all of a sudden they get rolling and we couldn’t stop the onslaught. So they deserved to win. This wasn’t about us. This was about South Carolina.”
On Jarred Vanderbilt: “Told me prior to the game. Yeah he was pretty good for first time out. He’s trying to figure out what we’re doing. We really haven’t scrimmaged with him. We’ve done some half court stuff, but I thought he was pretty good for the first time out.”
On playing without a point guard: “A lot of the game and when we played with one he wasn’t very good either. So basically we played the whole game without a point guard. We had out chances to win the game anyway. I mean, that wasn’t — look, there were balls that we should have had rebounds. Like, I’ve never seen so many dumb fouls. Like, just grab a guy and pull his shirt out. Excuse me, do you think this is lacrosse? The guy drives baseline, just reach in and grab. I’m going to have to watch the tape to make sure they were all fouls. And you understand these guys were coming over to the bench saying what? I didn’t foul him, I didn’t grab him. OK, well let me watch the tape, but they looked like fouls. This one will be a tough second half to watch. First half will be tough to watch, too.”
On Silva: “He was the difference. He manhandled everybody we put on him. We didn’t double every time, we didn’t double as much in the zone. We probably should have. We were telling guys, really dig into his lap and we didn’t. He just moved people. He bullied them. He moved them. He dominated them. He manhandled anybody on my team.”
On South Carolina fast start in first half: “No, I had to sub a couple guys early and like look if you’r not ready to go you can’t be in here. Look, it’s typical of teams that play us. They’re not going to give us a bad game. They’re pealing us, and South Carolina always gives us a good game. They always do.”
On mistakes: “We had 16 turnovers and my point guard had six. He had no assists and six turns. It was not one of his better games and the offensive fouls, the fourth one was. If you’re not getting by somebody, you can’t push off. If you can’t get by somebody, don’t try to get by him. This looked like a bunch of freshman playing. First time this year, I would say in the second half. The first half, you would look and say, ‘Ah, they got a nice team and da da da da.’ They’re all freshmen. In the second half you looked at us and we looked like a bunch of freshmen playing like freshmen would play. Which, again, I’m kind of disappointed in, but these kids aren’t machines, they’re not robots, they’re not great every time out. There’s ups and downs to this. There is the unwarranted arrogance of a typical team that thinks they’re better than they are and all the other stuff that goes along with the growth of a program and a season and the process you go through. Let’s learn and move on.”
On if he’ll intentionally miss every shoot-around half court shot from now on (hadn’t made one since before 2008 Memphis title game he lost, then made one Tuesday): “Robes [long-time right-hand man John Robic] was mad when I made it. I try to make it, but normally I don’t.”