When two of college basketball’s most storied programs faced off Saturday at Rupp Arena, the hype was real.
Unfortunately for Kentucky, the Wildcats ended up on the wrong end of the hype meter, falling to UCLA 97-92, marking only the fifth home loss in eight seasons for Kentucky in the John Calipari era.
After manhandling Arizona State earlier in the week, national media could not stop talking about Kentucky’s talent and poise entering its first true test against the Bruins.
The only problem: UCLA was listening. And give credit to Coach Steve Alford, who was able to draw up a sound strategy that caught Kentucky off guard and took them out of their game.
Here’s a look at what they’re saying...
It was frustrating as hell. And that face pretty much sums it up. The “run-and-gun” style that Kentucky had prided itself on through its first seven games was not working the way we expected. The Cats were far from invincible in transition.
UCLA shoots 53% and upsets UK 97-92. Malik Monk had 24 and De'Aaron Fox had 20. It's only Cal's 5th loss at Rupp in eight seasons.— alan cutler (@cutler18) December 3, 2016
UCLA also shot 43.5 percent from the three point line, better than Kentucky’s 41.2 percent from the field and significantly better than its 33.3 percent from downtown.
Kentucky almost definitely won’t lose at home again this season, and UCLA won’t earn a better win than this. Huge outcome for the Bruins.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) December 3, 2016
Kentucky still has to play Kansas at home. It will be a game the Cats need to win, but “almost definitely won’t lose” is a bit of a stretch to me at this point.
I think it’s good if it only happens once. Some tough games coming up against North Carolina and Louisville this month. Hopefully they can grow and not let it alter their confidence as a team.
"Fool's Gold" better learned early in season than late. Lots of talent, but UCLA never flinched & UCLA's Leaf & Welsh (31 pts/21 rbs) huge.— Oscar Combs (@wildcatnews) December 3, 2016
I think Kentucky will learn from this loss and play better in the upcoming big games. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will shoot better in those games.
Calipari: "We had 16 assists. Why didn't we pass it today? Because it's national television, my time? We all look bad."— Alex Forkner (@AlexForknerTCP) December 3, 2016
Legit cause for concern. Specifically, I wish Briscoe would have passed a bit more before shooting five threes and missing all of them.
Coach Cal: There are great lessons out of this. I wish we'd have come back and one I'd have liked to learn from that lesson a bit more.— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) December 3, 2016
The main lesson has to be one in humility. Not saying the effort wasn’t there from this young team, just saying again, they’re not invincible.
UCLA: veteran team w/ great talent & A+ understanding of who they are.— TJ Beisner (@Beisner_cn2) December 3, 2016
UK: young team w/ great talent & B- understanding of who they are.
That’s why we play the big games.
Sounds confident in his team. I think he may need to find more confidence in himself. Willis passed on a couple of open looks from behind the three point line. I see no scenario where Calipari should want Briscoe taking more threes than Willis.
In case anyone needs to feel better today: pic.twitter.com/1GfH8KQuhL— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) December 3, 2016
This will never get old.
But as SEC Country’s Joe Mussatto wrote, a sickness spreading around the team may have helped lead to the Cats’ struggles on Saturday.
Willis, who played 22 minutes in the loss, didn’t get any sleep Friday night before the game.
“Last night I was running from my bed to the toilet like the whole night,” Willis said.
He wasn’t the only Wildcat under the weather. Willis said Sacha Killeya-Jones, Isaac Humphries and Dominique Hawkins were battling some form of illness as well.
“We came back from the Bahamas, noticed people having coughs,” Willis said. “I’ve been having nausea and stuff. I haven’t been to sleep in probably 20-something hours.”
But head coach John Calipari is having none of it. Sickness or not, UK deserved to get beat. However, Cal shouldered some of the blame for option to cancel Saturday’s shootaround.
“No, no, no,” Calipari said. “Had nothing to do with anything. 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.”
Calipari opted not to have a shootaround before the 12:30 p.m. ET matchup. He said he second-guessed the decision after the loss, but it may have been an attempt to give his team extra rest.
“Not to make excuses, but we had some people not feeling well,” Willis said. “With not having the shootaround, I feel like we just got a slow start and we kind of didn’t match their energy.”
Calipari also admitted that UK was too cocky in thinking their defense would carry them and the offense would work itself out, via the Cats Pause:
"The reality of it is, we are a defensive team," Calipari said. "We walked into this game thinking, ‘We're just going to try to score.’ I had a bunch of guys play that way."
That led to lapses in defensive discipline, which led to plenty of open opportunities for the Bruins.
"We gave up 10 threes and I'm guessing six of them we left a shooter. All we talked about for two days is the one way they're going to beat us is bouncing it, they're not beating us shooting standing threes," Calipari said. "They didn't hurt us in the pick-and-rolls as much as I thought they would, they hurt us just driving the ball. Then we come off. They made some tough shots. They're a good team. They're going to make tough shots. I know this: if you give them a catch-and-shoot three, they're making that. We knew that going in. We gave them a bunch of those."
Calipari also blamed Kentucky's poor shooting (41.3%) on too many missed gimmes at the rim, via the Courier-Journal:
"When you think about the shots we missed, I'm going to guess eight of them were at the rim and we missed them," he said. "Like eight.
"Bam (Adebayo) missed some dunks. Dunk the ball. Why are you laying it in?"
Some of the issues close to the basket were due to UCLA's style of defense. Willis described it as, "basically like a match-up zone or a sagging man-to-man. They just wanted us to shoot."
Malik Monk enjoyed another brilliant game, scoring 24 points and hitting 4 of 8 from 3-point range. But for the season, he's not getting much help on the perimeter in making defenses respect long-range shots.
De'Aaron Fox is 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Isaiah Briscoe is 3 of 14.
All said, the Cats will be fine, and that should start Wednesday against a good Valparaiso team before the Cats face Hofstra in the Barclays Center next Sunday.