Kentucky’s triumphant win over Michigan State last Tuesday, followed by a blowout win over Eastern Kentucky, moved them ahead of the Spartans to sit atop the Associated Press college basketball rankings. This Tuesday, Kentucky took Rupp Arena’s hardwood against Evansville.
Little did the Wildcats know they’d be punched in the mouth right from tip-off.
While the game was close early on, Evansville suddenly pulled in front halfway through the first half. The Purple Aces took a 34-30 lead and hung right with the Wildcats until the end, closing out an upset victory over the nation’s top-team, 67-64.
In the three-point loss, Kentucky shot just 23% from behind the arc and 37% overall from the field. The team simply never looked locked in.
It’s by far the most disappointing loss in recent memory, especially after Kentucky played such terrific defense against the Spartans just a week ago. However, on Tuesday, Kentucky simply was one step behind a program with much-less talent.
The loss will surely be humbling going forward, as once again we see Kentucky has much to work on early in the year for yet another season.
Here is a recap of what John Calipari and select players said after the game:
Let me, first of all, congratulate Evansville. Walter (McCarty) and their team deserved to win. If we would have somehow pulled it out, you know, it would have been, kind of wouldn’t even have been fair because they fought us the whole game and they were the tougher team. They executed, they made shots, threes and free throws. My hat is off to them. It’s hard to do that in this building, but they were more ready to play. He had his team better prepared than I had my team.
Q. What do you hope your guys take from this going forward?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, within the last minute and 20 seconds they had two offensive rebounds where you had a chance to win, but you got to go get balls. And literally we couldn’t, guys were running out. We had, we worked for a month, maybe longer on toughness because I knew that would be a key. And we reverted today. You saw a team that was way tougher than us. Their guards were more physical and tougher. We couldn’t post the ball. We were trying to post the ball. We couldn’t hold position in the post. We couldn’t come off screens, whether it was a ball screen, we didn’t set it, they did. All the toughness. Late getting to rotations, which we haven’t done in two games. Well, we did it about five times and they made us pay. It’s that lesson. Now, I will tell you, part of this is that I’ve had to change practice because we’re practicing with seven and eight guys. That makes it hard. So, I’ve got to figure out a way of, like… Ashton (Hagans), that wasn’t Ashton today. That wasn’t the Ashton that I know. I think when you, you’re not competing every day to bring that out, you’re not going to play that way. That’s on me, not on them. But again, Evansville deserved to win the game in every aspect. They out-rebounded us, they out-toughed us, they made more threes, drove us for layups. I mean, they deserved to win.
Q. I asked Coach McCarty about how against y’all’s athleticism that they were able to get so many straight-line drives to the basket. I think you just alluded to that. Explain just what they were doing that y’all weren’t doing?
JOHN CALIPARI: They were spreading the court and saying, I’m beating this dude on the dribble and they beat him on the dribble. We weren’t in to go out. We were spreading the court out. We weren’t playing the way we play. And then we got better where we moved it in and we made our little run. But again, you have one or two breakdowns where you have a chance to get an offensive rebound, they get it, kick it out and get a three or get it and get fouled or kick it out and drive and layup. They smelled they could win the game and they finished. They finished strong. And we didn’t. This was a great lesson for all of us, including me. I mean, we could say they got outplayed and I could tell you I got out-coached.
Q. I know you’re just saying that, you said Ashton didn’t look like himself today. What was it that Evansville was doing?
JOHN CALIPARI: He’s a little bit injured right now. So, he hasn’t really been practicing. By not being able to really get after it, that’s his game. So, we got to figure out whether we shut it down completely. And I was trying to say, let’s get through this game and take some time, and probably should have had him take the game off. But, you know, we will see. We got a lot of stuff to figure out, to be honest with you.
Q. You say Ashton is injured. Exactly what is he injured with? What’s going on with him?
JOHN CALIPARI: His legs. His leg is bothering him.
Q. Were your turnovers more due to Evansville’s defense or your not doing what you’re supposed to on offense when you had twice as many turnovers as assists?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we only had 13 turnovers. That’s not bad. The problem is we weren’t passing the ball to each other. We were just coming down and we were saying post it and the dude twice jacked up threes like it’s high school. Just shoot it. And you’re looking like, really? Like, do you understand we’re in a dog fight here? We came down and did a screen, re-screen, got a layup. We called the same thing. The guy shot a three. Really? Why would you do that? Because I just played high school four months ago. And so we got, you know, you’re expecting your veterans, but Nick (Richards), I mean, the game got physical and he wasn’t as tough as their guy. And that’s bottom line. So he’s got to know that I can’t play that way. I’ve got to be strong and hold my position. Nate (Sestina), same thing. We couldn’t post Nate. We couldn’t get him the ball. So...
Q. In 10 years you’ve not loss one of these pay games at home. Is that just something that’s bound to happen eventually or is there something different about this team that it fell short?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, if we play like we did today we’ll lose more than one. If you’re not tougher than the other team, and you’re this young, and we’re trying to play eight guys right now because of injury, you better fight like heck. And we did when we played Eastern. Now, Eastern spread the court out a little bit, so we were able to do some things. This team, they kind of packed it in. They forced down pick-and-rolls, they switched a little bit, they kept us out of the lane a little bit better than Eastern did. But, like, we couldn’t post the ball? Like, literally could not, we couldn’t get it to the guys in there where we wanted to go in and let’s get some easy baskets. But this is all, look, again, I’ve done this 35 years and stuff like this happens. You want to grow from it, you want to learn from it. We may look back in a couple weeks and say, this is the greatest thing that ever happened to this team. We also may look back in a couple weeks and say what in the heck? They’re not changing. Because I said it from day one, the whole key to this will be toughness. Toughness doesn’t mean pushing and shoving. Toughness means before I catch the ball I’m working. Before a shot hits the rim, before it hits the rim, I’m moving to go rebound. If I’m getting screened, I’m fighting that screen because I’m tough. And I’m not trying to fight it early to get beat on a back door. We don’t play that way. If I’m in offense and it’s something that they’re playing through me, I will get open because I’m tougher than the guy that’s guarding me. All the stuff, taking a charge, being tough enough late to make free throws, like, to finish off a game. I mean all that stuff. And then for these young kids there’s an expectation that we win every game at home. Okay, you didn’t win this one. There’s an expectation for everybody, our fans and everybody. Every game we play at home we should win. It’s not the case. Either you fight to win the game or you don’t win. And if my team played like this, then they must have thought that I was going to accept it. So that all comes back to me. I don’t ever blame the kids on this kind of stuff. I look at myself and say, okay, what was wrong with the preparation? Okay, we are only practicing with seven, eight guys. Well, how do we make it so that we still get something done and that we don’t have this kind of step way back and almost accept that, you know, I’m getting out-worked today.
Q. Were there any individual positive performances that you saw from any of your guys?
JOHN CALIPARI: I would have to look at the tape. I was just -- I was just even -- I was really disappointed in the last two offensive rebounds because we had a chance to win the game. But you come up with those balls, and if you look the guards took off. They didn’t even go in there to rebound. And our bigs were running under the rim instead of checking out and creating space. I mean, stuff that we worked on. But a lot of game slippage. And I told them, I told them this a couple days ago, the way I coach is we’re, I don’t ever think about losing until the horn goes off if we won or lost the game. And even today I was thinking, okay, how do we do this? The last play wasn’t run right. And I put Tyrese (Maxey) in a spot he hadn’t been, so he came back and caught the ball and just did what -- it wasn’t supposed to be him he was supposed to be up the court. So, there’s things we got to done a there’s ways that I’m going to have to coach and make sure that these guys understand. But I’ll say this, we got great kids. They’re hurting and they should be, but my guess is they will learn from this and understand we can’t be this way. If you don’t guard and rebound you don’t get easy baskets. If you’re getting beat on the bounce you got to figure out, how am I staying in front of these guys. If you’re not ready to play, what was your game preparation like? Like I look at a couple, whatever you did today to get ready for this game, don’t do that again. Did anybody sleep after the shoot around? Did you go back and sleep? Because if you did, you look like you were sleeping today. And I don’t want to say all that to take away from Evansville, because they beat us. This wasn’t us giving them a game, they took it from us. They came into Rupp Arena where not many people win and they won a tough game and I’m, again, happy for Walter, he’s a good man and a terrific coach.
On what happened out there tonight…
“We have to get rebounds, we have to stay aggressive. It’s a tough one but we will bounce back.”
On Coach Calipari comments on the team’s lack of toughness…
“Yeah he’s right. We have to get those rebounds down the stretch, I have to make those free throws. Like he said, we just have to be tougher defensively, stand in front of our man, and not leave the corners.”
On Evansville’s play and if it was surprising …
“Not really. They just came downhill at us, and like Coach Cal said we weren’t tough enough to stand in front of our man and get tough rebounds late in the game.”
On how the team needs to bounce back from this game…
“You put this game in the past, you remember it, you take it to the head and you have to go back to work tomorrow. We can’t dwell on it, and we can’t let it be the reason, can’t let it be our season, we have a lot of games ahead and am looking forward to our game next Monday.”
On if the loss is tougher after being ranked #1 in the country…
“I mean losing period is disappointing, whether you were ranked number one or not ranked, we all hate to lose, I know that for a fact , but like I said we are just going to come tomorrow ready to work and bounce back.”
On doing anything different in practice this week…
“No, we didn’t. We have a lot of guys banged up but hopefully we can get back to getting our minds right by the next game.”
On playing better…
“I could have helped rebound a little more down the stretch. We missed some key rebounds that I think we needed to get. I’m trying to come out and play as hard as I can every single game, but you can always give more effort.”
On what Evansville did that no other team has done this season…
“They went super small and just started driving the ball which forced us to go small. I don’t think we ever played Keion Brooks Jr. at the five in practice, that was a good coaching adjustment on their part.”