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Calipari and Wildcats recap loss to Tennessee

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A tough pill to swallow with the postseason almost here.

Calipari Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Kentucky’s run through the SEC conference finally hit an orange brick wall on Tuesday night as the Tennessee Volunteers upset the No. 6-ranked Wildcats 81-73 on Senior Night at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.

Kentucky led by as many 17 points early in the second half, but had a complete meltdown, getting outscored 47-22 over the final 16:54 by an unranked team that now moves to just above .500 in the conference at 9-8. The Vols. led by John Fulkerson’s game-high 27 points, now move to 17-13 overall and build some much-needed momentum heading toward next week’s conference tournament.

Nate Sestina, who was honored during pre-game ceremonies as the team’s only senior, capped off his final game with a two-handed dunk off an EJ Montgomery field goal attempt to send the Cats to the locker room with a 42-31 halftime advantage.

In the second half, Kentucky held a 60-58 lead with 7:28 remaining, before the Vols got hot from the field, grabbed every loose ball and ultimately sent the Cats into the loss column for only the second time at home this season, snapping an eight-game winning streak.

Tyrese Maxey finished with a team-high 21 points to lead a stagnant offensive effort. Immanuel Quickly, coming off back-to-back SEC Player of the Week honors, finished with 15, while Richards and Ashton Hagans added 12 and 11, respectively.

Sestina, a graduate transfer from Bucknell University, was honored prior the game for Senior Night and started for the seventh time this season. Last week, the Emporium, Pennsylvania native was recognized for scoring his 1,000th career point against LSU.

Tuesday night’s game may have also been the final home contest for Richards, sophomores Quickley and Hagans, and Maxey who have each been moving up NBA Draft Boards.

The close of the home schedule also means that Wildcat fans will have to wait another year to see former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Dontaie Allen make his college debut. Allen, who scored 3,255 career points at Pendleton County High School, has not played in an organized game since December 22, 2018, when he tore his ACL as a high school senior.

Kentucky is now 24-6 (15-3 in the SEC) and closes out the regular season on Saturday afternoon against Florida in Gainesville. The SEC Tournament will be held March 11-15 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.

After the game, UK Coach John Calipari and select players met the media to discuss the loss and how it impacts preparation for the postseason, courtesy of UK Athletics.

John Calipari

Q. How alarming, if at all, is it to have a late game performance like this, this close to post-season?

JOHN CALIPARI: Any time you’re up 17 and there’s whatever it was left, the game got physical and we couldn’t compete. It just got physical. We tried different ways to try to score and we just, we had nothing. Couldn’t throw it to the post. Tried to open up the court, wasn’t getting by people.

But give credit to Tennessee. They could have gone away down 17, but that’s Rick Barnes, I mean, he’s a terrific coach. He never wavered. He kept telling them. (John) Fulkerson killed us, obviously. We tried some different things. There was a couple where we were trying to trap, and guys didn’t go down. We’re like, Why didn’t you go? I mean, there was a lot of stuff, but, you know, you’re trying to win every game, but it’s crazy, you just don’t. And you have a dud like this, but don’t make it about us. This is about Tennessee and how they played. They played physical, they went at (John) Fulkerson, (John) Fulkerson caught every ball, we caught none in the post. He then scored 27, made his free throws. And they made some unbelievable shots, some threes when they needed to. They just kept coming. We had our chances. It was a couple minutes to go and it was anybody’s ball game.

Q. You’ve coached against (John) Fulkerson for three years now, how much different is he as a player than what you’ve seen before?

JOHN CALIPARI: He’s just gotten better and better. He works really hard he fights for everything and he has a way of getting that shot up and off, I mean, he does. And he scored on Nick (Richards), he scored on Nate (Sestina), he scored on EJ (Montgomery), we tried everybody. We tried trapping, we tried a lot of different things to slow him down, but he was a tough cover for us.

Q. What did you make of, I don’t know what was being said, but it looked like Ashton (Hagans) and Nick (Richards) several times down the stretch were kind of going at each other after plays.

JOHN CALIPARI: Neither one played particularly well, so probably telling each other, You’re not playing well, and neither are you, neither are you, neither are you.

Q. Did you have any concerns about body language there? It seemed like guys were slumped shoulders —

JOHN CALIPARI: Mine or theirs?

Q. Either.

JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah, look, you — we have been on a heck of a run. This team has done a lot of good stuff, and the one thing we worry about is if the game is going to be physical, like, Nick’s (Richards) getting, you know, then we have got to learn to play in these kinds of games. You have a lead — we came out of a timeout or I had to call one, we’re running a play to try to get something near that basket, we take a jump shot. Like, just shoot it. Like, What? And again, for all the guys, if you want that thing near that rim, just ask for it, we’ll throw it to you. So, it was total. I mean, again, you have a 17-point lead as a coach, you should win the game. Come on.

We got manhandled, I got manhandled. It was, this is one that, you know, I know I got to watch the tape. I’m not going to look forward to watching this tape, but you got to watch the tape. Now we got another tough one. We go to Florida.

Q. Along those lines there were a couple three rebounds that Tennessee got offensive rebounds, put backs late. Was that just an effort thing or what did you see there?

JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we fumbled, I think, two that were in our hands. And, again, when it gets physical, you’re not looking at the ball. You’re looking at who is hitting you. And I’m not saying there was a foul. I’m just saying you got to learn to play through that. And then when we did rotate, we didn’t, our guards didn’t crack down. There was a lot of breakdowns. I’ll have to watch the tape. And what I told them after, You got to learn from this, guys. You let go of one. You got to learn. And you got to take responsibility yourself and how you played. But they’re all tied to each other and I’ve said that all season. There’s two things: If we don’t play physical, we’re not going to win. We won’t advance. Second thing is, this team is tied to each other. So, when one or two of the guys don’t play well, it affects everybody. And here’s what I would say, playing well doesn’t mean you are shooting all the balls and making them. No, it means you’re fighting, you’re connected defensively, you’re coming up with loose balls and rebounds, you’re covering for each other, you’re talking. When we do that together, we’re a good defensive team, we’re a pretty good offensive team. When we don’t or a couple guys don’t play well, it’s a hard deal. I tell you the other guy that was pretty good was Keion (Brooks Jr). Keion did some good stuff. And one thing you do as a coach, you — normally when things are happening, you’ll go with guys that you know have been in those situations and have made those plays even though they’re struggling. You’re thinking they will bust through. Then when you had to do it over again, you would say, If I would have known this, I would have said I’m going with these two. But you don’t know that. You don’t know. The normal situation for me is I would go with the guys that got you there and hope they bust through and really, they didn’t. But let me say this, don’t take tonight’s — to come in this building and do what they did, Tennessee, come on now. To come in this building, be down 17 and come back and win? And I hate to tell you, win going away. Come on now. That means they beat us by 25 in 15 minutes. But they could have beat us by 50? I mean, that’s — give them credit.

Q. You guys have had several games this year where you had a 10-, 15-point lead and let teams back in but still won. Can your guys learn something different from not escaping that situation and having it actually come back on them?

JOHN CALIPARI: If you’re not willing to play physical, you’re not winning. You’re going to get in games and there’s going to be, they’re going to let it go. Now, you can, He’s pushing me, I don’t know what to tell you. The second thing is it’s the same coming off screens, going to the basket for layups, it’s physical. Can’t miss layups based on the fact that, Well, the guy came at me and bumped me. They didn’t. They made them. We missed them.

#5 Immanuel Quickley, So., G

On Josiah-Jordan James playing in the game ...

”He is another really good ball handler, a left that can shoot it a little bit. So, he is really good player. I believe he is a McDonald’s All-American as well. We just really didn’t bring it today, myself, everyone.”

On the reasoning for today’s playing ...

”I do not think that there is a specific reasoning. They were a better team today, credit to them. They played harder than us, executed better. You just have to give credit to them.”

On clinching the SEC Regular Season Title ...

”The let down was the loss. I do not know if that was the exact reason why. You just have to move on. Practice Thursday and practice Friday and get ready for the tournament.”

On the team’s mood after the game …

”Really quiet. Everybody knows we did not play our best today. Like I said, we just have to move forward. Every team, we have had adversity this whole year. We just have to let this morph us in a positive way and get ready for the next team.”

#3, Tyrese Maxey, Fr., G

On what happened with the game …

“Gave up a lead, we didn’t fight late and that’s on us. We got to do better.”

On if this loss can be a learning lesson …

“Oh yeah, you can definitely learn something. Like you said we’ve been doing it all year, giving up leads, but we just got to bounce back. it’s like I’ve been saying you got 24 hours and after that you’re back at the drawing board to practice on Thursday.”

On Tennessee getting more offensive rebounds in the second half …

“Just not tough enough, we lost some loose balls. We dropped rebounds, big crucial rebounds we dropped and its ok, like I said we got to get back to drawing board, 24 hours is all we got to grieve and after that we’re back at it. big one on Saturday against Florida.”

On the feeling of giving up lead late …

“at this point it is what it is, we gave it up hats off to Tennessee they played great, they scored the ball down the stretch, got offensive rebounds, got stops and we didn’t so it is what it is, you got to go back to the drawing board. We’ll be at practice, practicing hard on Thursday.”

#10 Johnny Juzang, Fr., G

On the impact Josiah James had tonight...

“Yeah, he’s a good player. He definitely contributed for them.”

On how Johnny can stay on the floor, stay motivated and contribute ...

“You know, different games call for different things, but I am always trying to contribute, whatever that is, defense, rebounding, communicating, scoring. Yeah, just always trying to contribute.”

On what happened in the second half ...

“It was a combination of things, like I said earlier. They kind of got hot, we went into a little bit of a drought, you know, bad timing. As that happens, we could have done a better job keeping our energy up and not letting those things stretch on. It was a tough night; we’ll learn from it and bounce back.”

On what he will take away and learned from the loss ...

“Off the top of my head, again, we will go back and watch film and see the little things. You got a lead, you got to keep that lead, any lead, game is not over, you got to keep playing and come out with the same energy again. So, I am sure there will be a game like this come tournament time. Have a big lead, might start slipping a little bit, so you know we will make that adjustment when it happens, if it does happen. But, off the top of my head, we just got to keep playing, put teams away.