DES MOINES — Before Saturday, John Calipari had not lost a pre-Elite 8 game as Kentucky’s coach in the NCAA tournament.
Indiana — the Big Ten regular season champion — was no typical Round of 32 opponent, but the loss still left Kentucky with the feeling that its season ended prematurely.
Calipari handled the disappointing result with a level head and, moments later, calmly explained what went wrong.
“There’s two things that happened,” he said. “We had six offensive fouls. I don’t know if in my career I’ve had a team have six offensive fouls. Then we couldn’t make open shots, so we have eight assists. Like all these open shots we missed. We missed a ton of really good shots.
“But these kids aren’t machines. They’re not computers. Stuff happens and you try to figure it out.”
The Wildcats came a long way from last autumn, when Calipari said, “we stink.” Kentucky had ripped off six straight wins before falling Saturday.
“Don’t let this game get in the way of what you guys accomplished this year,” Calipari told his team afterwards. “Because it was incredible.”
Here were some of his other thoughts…
On the opponent… “What I don’t want to do is take away from what Indiana did. They played every kid on that court, gave everything they had. They deserved to win this game. We didn’t play our best, but maybe it’s because of them that we didn’t play our best.”
On Thomas Bryant, who led Indiana in points (19) and rebounds (5): “I spent a lot of time recruiting him. He was right down the street from us (in West Virginia) and the biggest thing I want to tell you is his family should be proud of how much better he’s gotten … I thought he was really good. I’m going to be honest: I didn’t realize he was that good.”
On the future… “We got a heck of a group coming in. Maybe the best ever that I’ve had! Coming in, that group! The big picture for us is, we’re fine. I am sick for my team, though … I’ll sit back. Could I have done something different? Is there something else I could have done to help them get over the hump? Is there some other way?”