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John Calipari recaps loss to Tennessee, takes blame for final minute blunders

Calipari made sure to take the blame for this painful defeat.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kentucky
Tennessee Volunteers forward Grant Williams (2) and Kentucky Wildcats forward PJ Washington (25) dive for a loose ball in the first half at Rupp Arena.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

24th-ranked Kentucky had plenty of chances to put #15 Tennessee away Tuesday night in Rupp, but came up just short, falling to the Vols by a final score of 61-59. It marks the second-straight loss for the Cats after a disappointing, 69-60 loss to unranked Missouri on Saturday in Columbia. The Wildcats now are just 6-5 in conference play with a 17-7 overall mark on the season.

Tuesday’s first half started off reminiscent of Saturday’s game at Missouri, as the Cats started off scoring just 14 points through the game’s first 15 minutes (UK only scored 18 total in first half vs. Mizzou last weekend). Quade Green ended up with 10 first-half points and Kentucky trailed the Vols by a score of 26-27 at the end of the first buzzer.

The Cats fought hard in the second half, and shot 45 percent compared to just 38 percent in the first. With 1:30 to play Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a jumper to give UK a 58-56 lead. Gilgeous-Alexander then committed two straight turnovers in Kentucky’s next two possessions, and Tennessee capitalized, hitting a three and then a breakaway dunk to give the Vols a 61-58 lead with 4.1 seconds remaining.

The Vols made a heads-up play in the final seconds, sending Gilgeous-Alexander to the line to shoot two with only 0.8 left on the clock. Gilgeous-Alexander hit the front end and purposely missed the second, but their simply wasn’t enough time for the Cats to get a shot off.

Gilgeous-Alexander played 39 minutes and looked a bit fatigued in the final minute and a half which could have had something to do with the two late turnovers.

Quade Green finished the game for Kentucky with 15 points and 4 assists. Aside from Green, only one Wildcat - Wenyen Gabriel - scored more than three points in the first half. Both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox elevated their play in the second half, with Gilgeous-Alexander finishing with 15 and Knox with 10.

Up next: Kentucky has two tough road tests traveling to Texas A&M this Saturday and then to Auburn next Tuesday, Feb. 14, to take on the eighth-ranked Tigers.

Here’s a look at Coach Calipari’s post-game comments:

JOHN CALIPARI: I made mistakes at the end and cost them (the players) the game. But I should have called a timeout. I don’t ever like to in those situations, but this is a different team. This team is too young. They’re just too young to know what’s there and if they get in trouble, just call a timeout. This team fought, we made a couple errors, a couple plays that I’ll have to go look on tape, but they just kept making foul shots, foul shots, foul shots, foul shots to keep them in it. Then the kid makes the three at the top, but then we still have the ball down one. Again, 17 seconds, I wanted to see -- should have called a timeout. This one’s on me. It’s not on this team. This team did everything they could to try to win the game.

Q. Put aside the team’s ability to put aside (Tai) Wynyard’s being suspended, talk about that maturity and able to put that to the side and play this game.

JOHN CALIPARI: I don’t know, that doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but go ahead.

Q. About not calling the timeout:

JOHN CALIPARI: Here’s what happens. We play the game against Vandy, you see I did not call a timeout, you get a layup. Usually they’re going to miss -- the defense is going to panic. It’s a one-point game. What are they saying? Don’t. And if he could get by somebody he was going to get a layup, because they weren’t going to foul him. That’s why I usually don’t (call a timeout at the end of games). But this is such a young team and I could see with they crowded the court and they were being physical, pushing guys around and into each other. I should have called a timeout. At least 10, 12 seconds to go I should have seen it. When I saw it I kind of let it go hoping he would make it -- you can’t hope, not with these kids. And let me give Tennessee credit now. They came into this building, were up on us a little bit, it was a touch and go game the whole way. We get up, it looks like this thing’s ours, and they don’t stop. So give them credit. I’m saying that the chance that we had to win the game fell to me and I let it go. So this isn’t anything about any of these guys. We had some guys not play great defensively, but they played well enough, we fought, we did some good stuff, we still had some turnovers that were unnecessary, but we’re on the right track now. If this is who we are, I’m feeling good. If you notice, we went to a little more grind it out basketball because of who we are. And that was a good defensive team and a good offensive team and we did -- like I said, other than them making just about every free throw down the stretch, we did what we were supposed to.

Q. You guys got out on the outlet pass quickly, you looking to beat the Vols down the floor and also the lob was there tonight. Would you please discuss that.

JOHN CALIPARI: Well we’re trying to play fast. If we rebound the ball or steal it, we’re going. The question becomes if they score on us or the ball bops out of bounds or they’re back there because we fumbled or did something, then we need to grind it out a little bit. We need to have everybody touching the ball, we need to get more people involved in how we’re playing offensively. And I think we did that today. But again, against a really good defensive or offensive team, they shoot 42 percent, 23 from the three, and have 13 turnovers. That’s, with us being this inexperienced and doing that, it’s pretty good. Offensively, I thought we did some good stuff, we still have a ways to go.

Q. Hami (Diallo) played only 13 minutes tonight, four in the second half. You and (Tony) Barbee seemed to be talking to him quite a bit on the bench. What’s going on with him?

JOHN CALIPARI: He just wasn’t engaged defensively. He just, he was breaking down defensively, so -- look, these kids aren’t machines and they’re not robots, they make mistakes, they have bad games, and then, OK, come back next week, we play this weekend, play this weekend, do it. But I just, I didn’t play Sacha (Killeya-Jones) as much. Sacha has a hard time with (Grant) Williams. He had a hard time up in Tennessee with Williams. And we put Jarrod (Vanderbilt) on Williams and he did pretty good. So now you had Jarred and P.J. (Washington) both playing him well. And I thought Nick (Richards) did some good stuff, Nick rebounded the ball, did some good stuff that way.

Q. Can you comment at all on Tai’s (Wynyard) suspension and this report that he was at a party with --

JOHN CALIPARI: He was, he was, he violated team rules. He has -- the back, he is out because of a back, but he’s now been suspended because of violating team rules and that’s all I’ll say.

Q. How well do you think your guys can look at the good side of this, the competing, the going right down to the end?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we’ll see, but again, we had some spells that were so bad, like what? Are you? Why did you? What? And that’s what young kids do. Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) played 39 minutes and Kevin Knox played 37. It’s too many minutes. Probably hurt us in the end. But you know what, we’re trying to win the game. And if someone is going in for them and breaking down or -- but again, I’m looking at this saying, you know what, we’re better. Quade (Green) was really good today, did some good stuff. The last play he gave that kid that three with his hands down. But again, he made baskets, he got to the rim. He made, he got guys involved. He was good. It looked like we were in control of stuff with him and Shai out there.

Q. On Quade, the first half you were really struggling to score and without him you had no offense what was he doing that other guys weren’t doing?

JOHN CALIPARI: Made shots. You know what, it’s funny when the ball goes in it looks pretty good. Your offense looks better. We got some guys that are struggling and to make shots and a 3-for-14 from the three is not going to get it done. You’re not going to -- you know, in a game like this -- now they only made 5-of-21. But those two threes, if we make those, we win in pretty good fashion. So he was making them and the rest of the guys weren’t.

Q. Have you stressed to Quade lately to take the ball to the basket more instead of just settling for the threes?

JOHN CALIPARI: We want him to play away from the ball because of his size. If he’s crowded he’s not the same guy. But if he’s away from the ball, give it up, get it back and make plays away. Or for to us drive and get him shots. And then he’s crafty with the ball. If you do stop him and he’s got space, he can get in the lane. And that little jumper he missed I thought it was down, because he usually makes that. I mean, again, they did what they had to, they made their free throws, they made that big three, and we missed some shots that we needed to have go down.

Q. I think for three of the four halves y’all played Tennessee this season, Grant Williams has looked like a different player than he has all season. What have you been able to do against him this season that others haven’t?

JOHN CALIPARI: P.J. is a good matchup and now Jarred. We don’t have any other real good matchups for him but those two are. He’s a terrific player. He’s got to be one of the Player of the Year candidates, in my opinion.

Q. Kevin Knox, second game where he looks like he has a hard time finding shots. How much is that on the defense or how much of that is on him?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well he took more shots than anybody on the team.

Q. Were they good shots or poor shots?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well I would like him to go to the rim more. I would like him to get in there and get fouled more. The play he made, the and-one, I would like to see a bunch of those. When the court is crowded he struggles a little bit with that, so maybe we got to do some things to make the court more open for him. But, again, guys, for some of the guys, it’s as much defense that I worry about. You guys will all look at this offense, but if a guy’s breaking down and killing us on defense, the offense, now you break down on offense and you are breaking down on defense, you’re really killing us. So we got to just sure up some of the small mistakes we’re making. But again, we gave ourselves a chance to win. That ball, he makes that three, it’s a one-point game. That game was in my hands to do something with and I dropped the ball. It’s not these guys. These kids did what they were supposed to. That was a hard-fought game against a team that’s winning five games in a row, now six. We’re struggling a little bit and we come out and have that kind of effort? Proud of these kids.