John Calipari had problems with officiating throughout the Kentucky Wildcats’ clash with the Arkansas Razorbacks. After complaining about multiple fouls that he saw as flops, Calipari had had enough after EJ Montgomery was called for a moving screen.
After continuously arguing with the officials, crossing halfcourt multiple times, and pushing through his players to make his point, he was hit with a double technical and ejected with 8:18 to go in the second half.
At the time, it seemed incredibly ill-advised as Arkansas had all the momentum and the ejection resulted in a three-point lead for the home team.
The most calm ejection in all of ejections pic.twitter.com/9o3DbC3N6Y— Bobby Reagan (@BarstoolReags) January 18, 2020
Kenny Payne says on postgame show that Calipari thought he had been T'd up twice already, one from each official nearby, so that's why he kept pushing the issue and wound up getting ejected. Allegedly was not his intent.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) January 19, 2020
After allowing a 17-6 run to lose their 11-point lead, their head coach’s ejection was exactly the shot in the arm that the Wildcats needed. They went on a 17-2 run over the next 5:47, which effectively put the game away. After playing the foul game, the Wildcats ended up with a 73-66 win.
With everything going the Razorbacks’ way at the time of the ejection, Calipari’s ejection could have been extremely costly. Multiple players were in foul trouble for UK, and Arkansas had started to find their offensive groove while Kentucky went cold. The Wildcats woke up, locked in, and got it done, though, in a hostile environment against a very good team.
You have to give credit to Kentucky’s assistant coaches as well. They didn’t do anything to stop Calipari from being tossed, but they got the ship back on course after he was sent to the locker room early.
A big part of that was assistant coach Tony Barbee, who had the idea that UK should use zone when they got down, in part because Ashton Hagans was in foul trouble and couldn’t pressure on defense.
UK assistant coach Kenny Payne: Staff stressed composure after Calipari ejection. They played zone a bit to buy some time for Ashton Hagans, who had four fouls. He thinks it made Arkansas a bit hesitant, stagnant at times. "It worked. Coach Barbee did a great job."— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) January 18, 2020
That had the Hogs looking lost on offense, as they didn’t have enough shooters to spread the floor, and they couldn’t get any penetration, leading to a long score drought and some terrible offensive possessions, allowing UK to take command.
That may have never happened had Calipari not been ejected, as he vehemently against playing zone, but his assistants are far more open to it. Perhaps his ejection can be a turning point this season if UK starts playing zone more and it continues to be highly effective.
After all, UK has plenty of size and athleticism at every spot, so perhaps this team can do really well with spurts of this defense.
In addition, if UK’s games are going to keep turning into foul fests like they did twice this week, a zone defense can help reduce fouls and allow players battling foul trouble to stay on the floor more, if they can execute it effectively.
People are now going to speculate whether or not Calipari’s ejection was a calculated move since his team was playing poorly down the stretch and a coach’s ejection has the tendency to light a fire under a team. Whether he was trying to get tossed or not, it had some kind of effect on Kentucky as it was the turning point in his team’s crucial win.
And if it leads to UK playing more zone, it may have been a turning point in the season that helps this team become a legitimate Final Four threat.