After a strong start and gaining a 12 point lead, Kentucky never bounced back from a late 1st half Kansas run and eventually fell 79-73 in Rupp Arena on Saturday.
Aside from Derek Willis’ hot shooting (5-6 from 3), there was not a lot to write home about for the Cats on the offensive end. Willis and Malik Monk each had 18 points to lead Kentucky, who also has a season high 17 turnovers as a team.
In his post-game comments, Coach John Calipari questioned the team’s toughness and really railed on the defense, but he also seemed oddly optimistic. He called these issues “curable” and reminded everyone that the 2013-2014 squad hit a rough patch before turning things around and rolling to the title game.
See below for a full transcript of Coach Cal’s remarks, courtesy of UK Athletics.
Q. What do you think happened with Bam tonight?
“Well, they double-teamed (Bam), he turned it over some, he missed some free throws, he wasn't the same aggressive self. He could have caught and turned and shot some balls. This wasn't that. This was, we got out-toughed and we didn't guard the way we need to guard, which is all curable. There was a stretch where Malik doesn't get a shot. Well, we can't. You can't play seven, eight minutes without him getting a shot. And it wasn't, they were in a zone, OK, we can move them around and do some different things. There was some of that, but it was more they shot 60 percent in the second half, you're not going to win. In a close game, again, we took, turned it over for an unforced, and then took a tough shot. No rebounds. I mean, (Josh) Jackson's tip-in was a huge, I mean it was a one-point game. But, I've got to look at the tape and really break it down. (Landen) Lucas had a bunch of second-chance points. I mean, I don't know if Bam just left him, we didn't crack down, but there was a lot of that going on. And again, 17 turnovers. Again, 10 from our guards. We have been a low, low turnover team until the last three games. Now, all of a sudden we're averaging 17 turnovers a game, that shouldn't be who we are.”
Q. Bill Self made a point of the last five minutes of the first half, that you guys had a working margin and then at halftime a five point game. How did you feel about that stretch going into halftime?
“Well, obviously, I would have rather not had that run. But if you look at it, we had like three turnovers. It's similar to what we have done in every game. And the turnovers led to basket, not earned basket, they're breakaways. So, I don't know if it was three turnovers in a row, it may have been four. Had a shot in the corner that we missed. And Isaiah (Briscoe), who is usually who we go to in the zone, was on the bench. So, we were trying to figure stuff out. But again, it was -- and I'm going to have to look at it on the tape, but there were I think three, maybe four turnovers in a row.”
Q. Looked like the importance of this particular game here, it appeared that both teams were kind of tight.
“We weren't. I thought we started good.”
Q. You shot 45 percent from the free-throw line in the first half?
Q. Kentucky did.
“Yeah. But I thought we started good. We had a good lead and we were playing fast and we were playing and scrambling a little bit. They had missed some open 3’s that they normally make, which is why the lead was what it was. They went zone, a little bit of triangle and two. We turned it over three, four times. And now we may have gotten tight in the second half, maybe a couple guys because the game was close. But, I liked the fact that we fought and we got it there and it came down to on a rebound or two, a turnover here, and we got to learn. We did the same thing at Tennessee. All right, we're right where we want this, and it was turnover, turnover layup, layup. Now all of a sudden it's four, it's a different ball game. So, we got to look at it, cure it. The toughness in the defense, we'll get after that and we got a couple days before Georgia. Georgia won today and played well, so we got another tough game.
Q. Did you think when Kansas went on that 10-0 run in the second half, did you feel like your kids reverted a little bit, maybe broke down, tried to do a little bit more one-on-one at that time?
“No. No. I think, again, the whole thing for us turnover-wise is when we make easy plays, we don't turn it over. When we're trying to make a harder play, like if a guy's open in the corner, just throw it to him. Why would you ball fake him and then run a guy over. Why would you, versus an extra pass to the wing, you're going to try to force one inside, which gets tipped away. You're driving and they're in, there is no drive, it's a swing and then a drive. I mean it's all freshman kind of stuff. So I think it was a 10-3 run to end the half. And again, when you have turnovers and they're going for baskets, that may have been six of those points.”
Q. What did you think of the way that Derek (Willis) played tonight, keeping you in it with his shooting but he missed that rebound there at the end?
“Missed a couple rebounds. But, I left him in because I felt we needed his shooting. And you know, you know he's going to give a little bit up defensively and rebounding, but you're hoping he can make enough shots to make this thing close. I thought he did a good job on the offensive end. It's just you and a guy and either he gets it or you get it and you got to fight. And that's something that's got to continue to work on.”
Q. Knowing how much you hate to lose, how much do you dwell on this one? And two, knowing that your team was much younger than this one, did that play a significant role in why you guys didn't win?
“Well, we're still -- look, this is always a process here when you're talking young players. I can remember in 2014, we were dying and then they got it at one point and all of a sudden we took off. This team came together a little bit faster, yet you find out all the execution stuff that I've been talking about will come back and haunt you. All those little things that you, if you really want to be one of those teams, and I keep saying we're not yet, but we got great post presence, we got long players, we got some guys that can make shots, we shoot a high percentage. Normally we don't turn it over like we do the last few games.
“And so it's all doable. And as a coach, you look at this and say, OK, where do we go and what do we zero in on? And I think it's toughness and defense. We got to be a better defensive team than we are. We had some guys that just broke down on crossover moves their layups. Post-ups where we don't help. Down screens where we lose guys. We switch and we have a chance to switch back and we just stop playing. And they make a three at the top of the key because we didn't switch back, which we could have. Look, I hate losing, but I think there were a lot of people that wish they had my problems. Let me say that.”
“Q. What did you think of the atmosphere?
“Oh, it was great. It was great. I thought all that was great. This is what this place is. And when we go on the road, it's the same kind of atmosphere. Every road game is like a war. And that's the other thing that's tough for these kids, you got to come every game. And then when you do come, you got to finish for 40 minutes, because the other team's not going away. You got to finish it out. You get a team down 12, 13, 14, you better get it to 20. And then you better go into half and say the first five minutes we're going to win this game. We're not there yet. We get it to 12, 13, and the next time I look around it's four. Then I look up we're down four. What the heck just happened?”
Q. What was it that made them so effective against Malik after the first 12 minutes or so of the contest?
“They did a good job of shading toward him, whether it was the zone or they -- the triangle and two, they put a man on him, and then again, like I told the staff after, we can't go eight minutes without him shooting the ball. Seven minutes. We have an enough stuff in our offense whether it's man or zone, for him to get shots off. I think that the shot he took on the baseline, which was a tough play at that time, was based on the fact that he hadn't gotten a shot in a while. But we'll work on that and, like I said, we come back to, they shot 60 percent in the first half -- or second half. 60. Okay, we struggled with what we were doing, they shot 60 percent. You cannot win with a team shooting 60 percent. You can't score enough.”
Q. You mentioned some of the miscues on defense, how do you fix that really with a month to go before the games start to matter?
“Every day you start zeroing in on the areas that we need work. The crazy thing, you may not believe this, but we're in this mode every year. There's something that the team needs to work on that we'll zero in on. I wish it was over the break where I was having two and three things a day where we could really go, but it isn't. Everybody in the country's in the same situation, you're going to have a couple days in between practices. You have to give them a day off.
“So, you're going to normally have two good days of practice and we just have to zero in and talk to these guys. The greatest thing about this group is they will want to win and they will want to learn. I thought we passed the ball better today, not where we were, but better. Now we got to build on that and we just got to say, look, guys, if you really want to do this, you got to be a defensive team first. Now, if you defend and rebound, what does that give us an opportunity to do?
“Fly. If you can't stop a team from scoring, how are you going to play fast? You can't play fast. So if you want to run, you got to defend first. And I thought like Dom (Dominique Hawkins), Dom fights and defends and tries and you can put him in and you know what you're going to get from him.”
Q. You haven't lost consecutively many times at Kentucky. What do the last two losses have in common?
“They stink. How about that. One was on the road and one is home. We don't normally lose here, but Kansas, you got to give them credit, they came in here and all the plays they had to make in the second half, even when we made a run to make it close again, they were effort plays, too. They were tip-ins, they were they were grabs, they were second and third shots. They were a drive to the basket and a physical tough and-one layup. That's what they did to beat us. And I come back to, our defensive playing and our toughness. That's what they did to us. A young team, you got to learn to fight. That's what we're going to have to learn to do.”