COLUMBIA, Mo. — Living dangerously, expecting to just stomp on the gas and zoom away with a win after falling way behind, finally caught up to Kentucky on Saturday at Missouri. The Wildcats managed just 18 points in the first half, a John Calipari-era low, and trailed by 14 with 9 minutes to go, but unlike crazy comebacks against West Virginia and Vanderbilt in the last week, they could never recover.
Tigers 69, Cats 60 might be the wake-up call this young team needed. Or it might’ve been a preview of problems on the horizon. Time will tell, but No. 21 Kentucky (17-6, 6-4 SEC) will face seven NCAA Tournament hopefuls in its final eight regular-season games, meaning some major tests ahead.
Here’s everything Calipari had to say after the loss:
On why Knox couldn’t get going: “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. But it wasn’t just Kevin. We made one jump shot in the first half, and that was by Sacha. The biggest thing is we still refuse to pass the ball. I don’t have the answer for that. Then when a guy runs a guy over and takes a bad shot, he says, ‘No one is passing.’ Shai had six assists, but he still had four or five other plays where he could’ve passed it to guys — and Quade the same thing. All of them. It’s almost like [he needs to demand], ‘I don’t care if you’re open or not; you’re going to have to pass it.’ I don’t have the answer right now, but you gotta create shots for each other. The game is too hard. Give Missouri credit. They did a great job and fought and I thought we had our chances at the start of the second half, and then we come down and do freshman stuff and they go basket, basket it. All of a sudden you look up and it’s nine and you’re like, ‘What just happened?’ Late in the timeouts, ‘We’re not fouling here’ or ‘We are fouling here,’ and we did the opposite. Literally did the opposite. And I was happy the players were getting on each other for not listening. But that’s what young guys do. What young guys do when they’re trying to establish themselves is they’re defensive and they’re into their own self, so they lose some of the team stuff. We’ve got to get through this.”
On how this Mizzou team is different from last year: “You’ve got a couple added players who are pretty darn good — like three of them — and if you remember, last year’s team played us pretty darn good, too. I mean, I think in this gym we were lucky to get out alive. But they’ve got good size. Last year, I don’t think this kind of size. Now all of a sudden they come at you with three, four, five different guys.”
On if there comes a point with foolish/selfish Diallo plays that he has to sit him: “I hope not. I’m hoping and I keep telling these guys: I don’t think any of them are playing great. Theyr’e not playing bad, bad. They’ve had bad games, but I’m just waiting for them to break through. And most of it is, ‘Play this way.’ And guys are fighting that. Like, ‘I’m going to play my way, which means I am not passing,’ which means nobody passes, which means no easy shots and you’re in a dog fight, which we’ve been in 15 times this year.”
On if he’s almost kind of glad they didn’t find a way to save this one and have to deal with the consequences of playing that way: “No, I wish we would’ve won. No, not at all. No, no, no. Look, I told them at halftime, ‘Every game I coach, every minute I coach, I’m saying, “How do we win this game?” And I don’t think about losing until the horn goes off. Even this game, we were at 5 and I’m thinking, ‘OK, we got a chance.’ We got a three in the corner that got blocked. If that goes down, it’s a 2-point game. And I’m just thinking, ‘How do we win?’ The problem is you’ve got to have a team thinking like you’re thinking as a coach. And if a guy’s not playing well, when they’re this young, it’s hard for them. They’re not thinking about anything else. They’re thinking about how they’re playing. Disappointing, but give Missouri credit. They beat us. It wasn’t just what we did to ourselves. They beat us.”
On how to coach passing: “Trying everything. It’s obviously not working. Done this a long time, but I haven’t had a team this young. And when they’re this young each player is trying to establish who they are as a player and it just takes time and, you know, I was disappointed with a bunch of guys in the room. We need Shai to do some of the stuff he’s doing, but he took 16 shots. He needs to take about 10 shots. You had your two point guards take 27 shots.”
On youth and inexperience contributing to big holes: “We’ve got a couple guys who are playing better when we’re down and my thing is, you can’t wait until you get down to play this way. This has got to be way they are. And uh, you know, it’s, uh, you know, we’re. This one should sting them, but we’ll see. The road for us, the next eight games, shew, we could lose all eight. You look at them, you’ve got four on the road, four at home and the ones you have at home are, you know. So we’ve got to pick it up, and let’s go, figure it out as a coach, like I said, I coached the whole game. I wasn’t going to give up on them, and I didn’t. I’m challenged when guys aren’t listening in timeouts. That’s a hard one. You know, you call them over. What didn’t you hear. I wasn’t listening. Oh. I mean, we got some of that.
“I still believe in this team and I still think we have the most upside of any team in the country. It’s just that, unless you play together as a team, unless you create shots for each other, unless you cover for each other defensively, unless you talk more, you can’t ever become a good team. And then, each individual player is hurt. Now all of a sudden, you say, well, he’s not that good. And he’s not that good. What happened to him today? Why isn’t he that good? And he’s not that good. That’s what happens when you don’t play well together. When you play well together, you start saying, ‘wow he’s really good,’ and ‘that extra pass,’ and ‘did you see him make that extra shot?’ They create for each other, they’re still fighting.”
On Missouri freshmen: “They played good. They played good.”
On the toll it takes on a coach: “I’ve just done it 30 years so I kinda get to where this is all part of it. The good news for me: I haven’t been through a whole lot of these and as I get older they get harder to deal with. But I’ll say this: I love winning and enjoy winning, bringing teams together and seeing guys get better. Sometimes you’ve got to be hard on them, tell them your will is not stronger than mine and so we’re kind of in that with this group. I’m trying to find five guys that could pass it to each other. That’s all I was looking for. And I thought at the start of the half we did it and then all of a sudden we kind of reverted and all of a sudden it’s nine again and I couldn’t find five guys who would pass to each other.
“But these kids aren’t machines. They’re not robots. They don’t play great every night out. They get going the right way and the right way is really hard and you’ve really got to share and you’ve really got to be about everybody else and they’ll try their own way again. ‘I don’t like that. I’d rather do my stuff.’ It is what is is. That’s what coaching is. And it’s easy when you’re winning. When you get beat and you’ve got to bring a team together, that’s when I look at guys in our profession and say, ‘that guy’s really coaching.’ For us right, we shouldn’t have won the last game. We shouldn’t. I mean, Vandy did everything they should have to win. They missed two free throws, we get a lucky foul, make two (free throws), beat them in overtime. So. It is what it is.”