Just when things seemed to be going well for head coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats, they find themselves being blown out at Rupp Arena by the Alabama Crimson Tide. Kentucky entered the game 4-6, winners of three straight, only to lose 85-65 despite being three-point favorites. As the Wildcats move to 4-7, the Crimson Tide are now 10-3 and 5-0 in SEC play.
Though Kentucky kept the contest close early on, Alabama pulled ahead to close the first half, 42-30. The second half mirrored the first, as the Wildcats couldn’t gain any momentum. Of course, 34% shooting (22% from behind the arc) won’t win many basketball games. And even though the Wildcats out rebounded Alabama by 10, their 19 turnovers proved to be the difference in the loss.
Credit must be rewarded when deserved, and the Crimson Tide indeed deserve some. John Petty Jr., despite the fact it feels like he’s in his seventh year at Alabama, put on a scoring clinic with 23 points (as he always seems to do against Kentucky) and teammate Jaden Shackelford added 18. Isaiah Jackson led Kentucky at both ends of the floor in their loss, scoring 14 points and blocking seven shots.
Kentucky will next hit the road down to Auburn on Saturday where they’re set to play the Tigers at 2 PM EDT. Check out below for what Calipari and his Wildcats had to say following the game via UK Athletics.
Q. I don’t remember one of your teams, at least not for a long time, having as much trouble keeping a team from penetrating, getting to the basket time after time. Can you fix that? What did you see tonight?
JOHN CALIPARI: Not one of our players played well. I obviously didn’t coach well. But what I told them after is I’m going to find five guys that will fight and that’s who I’ll play. We got beat every which way but loose. We were late to everything. We were backing away from players, probably because of what you said. They’re afraid, I’m going to get beat on the dribble and look bad, I’ll back away, give them a three. They shoot 30 and make 14. Give Alabama credit. They came in here and one of their players asked me, ‘What’s the score,’ at the end of the game. You know, it’s 85-65, you killed us. They came in... We start the second half and, I mean, we work out of timeouts. When you’re getting clubbed, you got no confidence. It’s like a boxer. You walk in and you start getting hit in the head three or four times, it’s hard to be confident. Now you can’t run stuff. We couldn’t get a rebound. Nineteen turnovers. You know where most of them were? The hardest play we could make, we made. How about you just throw it to that guy right beside you because I got to do something crazy because I look really bad right now, I’m going to make a hard play. We reverted. I’m not sure I’ll even watch this tape, to be honest with you. Move on to the next one. This league, it’s not going to get easier. People were playing the way they are, which is space the court and beat people on the dribble. Let me ask you, did we have anybody that could stay in front of anybody? I don’t know. I mean, didn’t look like it. We got work to do. You know what, this team has made strides so they showed what they can be, but they’ve also shown now what they can be. You come and fight and execute and do this together. How about this one? We had about four or five, maybe six or seven, wide-open shots that we threw the ball out like that for no reason. All you had to do was throw it in their pocket, the guy gets a shot. We throw it here. What that means is I am not worried about him, I’m only worried about myself. I’m not thinking about that shooter, putting it in the pocket so he can get that thing off. We didn’t get it to Olivier (Sarr). He was wide open. We showed him at halftime five clips where the guy’s got him on his back. Either we don’t throw it or he’s in a dogfight to keep the guy behind him, and we throw it away from him. Can’t go get it. He’s in a dogfight. He’s fighting, fighting. You throw the ball over there because you’re afraid you’ll throw it away. I mean, it was a mess, but...
Q. Alabama made almost as many threes as you all attempted. They play that style, get shots off quick, early and often. A lot of times tonight you had two or three big men on the floor. Do you feel you can beat a team like this as constructed?
JOHN CALIPARI: Well, we took 18 threes. How many we make?
Q. Four, I think.
JOHN CALIPARI: Yeah. So, if we took 25 and made six, how would that be? We had a chance to go inside and post the ball and play, now put that game to where it was nine or 10. We couldn’t deliver the ball. When we did, we scored in there, did some good stuff. Again, we had a lot of one-for-fours, one-for-fives. Dontaie (Allen) was two-for-five. Four-for-18 from the three means, yeah, maybe you’re not a 3-point shooting team, but that’s ok. On the other side of it is in the first half they made 10. They were either uncontested or we were late getting to somebody. Well, they’re going to make them then. That’s how they play. Our game plan was we are not blocking the shot, but we’re going to contest. So, we get late, not late getting to them, but late jumping. We weren’t even near people.
Q. We haven’t talked to you since the reaction to the anthem. What has been your take on that? You have a county asking to defund the university. How do you feel about the reaction?
JOHN CALIPARI: I can’t hear everything you’re saying. But I talked about it on the radio show. Half of these kids come from military families. They have either a father or brother or uncle, a grandfather that was in the military. This had nothing to do with military. They saw all the stuff that was going on and they felt like they needed to do something. I didn’t know about it until 90 minutes before the game. We’ve had a talk since then about you don’t need to speak now, you need to have action. How do you bring people together? How do you make a difference? Not just how do you make a statement. I talked to them about what we did with the minority leadership, the McClendon, which was action, you do something, you don’t just speak. Like I said to them, they’re 18 years old, they’re learning. It was not meant... These kids are good kids. They’ve got good hearts. Again, this political time, probably not a real good time to do it. But when they came in, we really feel strongly, we want you to kneel with us. I put my hand on my heart even though I did kneel. I have friends in the military, friends in the police. This is our country right now. Anything that’s done you’re either for something, for a party or against a party. That’s not who they are. I like to think their civic duty of voting, they all did. I don’t know how many of you voted when you were 18 or 19. I didn’t. They have. Their statement was peaceful. It was a peaceful statement. Hopefully going forward we’re going to figure out and help them have some actions that are not in front of the public, that are not in front of the TV, but things they can do to bring people together or make a difference.
Q. Are you saying it was a mistake to kneel?
JOHN CALIPARI: I’m not saying that. That’s what they wanted to do. The timing of it, with all that’s going on right now, they felt the timing was right because of what they’re seeing on TV. Now they’re like, OK.
Q. You kind of touched on this, but I wonder, you guys seemed to really struggle feeding the post. The telegraph pass, so on. You guys had been doing that fairly well in recent games. How do you explain that kind of reverting, as you would put it?
JOHN CALIPARI: Let me ask you this question. How have we been guarding the three?
Q. Better than today. Better than tonight.
JOHN CALIPARI: So, there’s a lot of things that went on today. My hope is this is a knock-off game. Alabama’s good. They deserved to do what they did to us. They made open shots. They were physical going to the basket. So, not only did they get that, they were getting plays at the rim. We were getting back on the left and right. Like I said, this may be one you burn the tape, don’t even look at it. My hope is this isn’t who they are. This is a knock-off.
Q. You lose a former player in Ben Jordan. How did that affect the team’s mental approach to tonight’s game?
JOHN CALIPARI: It was a rough day today. It was an emotional day today. We’ve got four or five that will go to the viewing tomorrow that were friends, knew they could count on Ben. Ben was one of the nicest. Ben came in with one thing, I need you to help Nick (Richards). I need you to be physical. When I went to put him in games, he begged the coaches not to put him in. Tell coach not to put me in. This kid was only here to help the team. He had a great smile and a great way about him. He was a little bit of a prankster. It’s just sad. It affected the guys. I mean, the guys that didn’t know him could see that the other five... It was an emotional morning. It was emotional for me. I didn’t know it until the morning. I just feel for his parents. I feel for his sister. I mean, it’s just a bad deal all the way around. I’m not worried about it having an effect on my team today. This is a basketball game. That family, man. I mean, I talked to Brad (Calipari). You try, doing the best you can, absolutely. Sometimes there’s things that will work against you. But I wanted Brad to know, you’ve done everything to put yourself in a position. If it doesn’t all work out, doesn’t mean you failed. You use all that stuff and put it to good use. That’s what the great game of basketball is about, what you learn about yourself, what you learn about being a team, how you sacrifice, how you give up for each other.
Q. Your team has a great amount of length. Why do they struggle on the defensive side? Why didn’t Lance Ware play?
JOHN CALIPARI: I said after if I had to do it over again, because we wouldn’t fight in battle, I would have just put Lance in there. But, again, did you expect us to play this way? Anybody? So, now you’re giving guys a chance to play through it thinking they’ll wake up. Sometimes you look back and say, If I would have known you wouldn’t have woken up, I would have just played this guy. But that’s not how this goes. Lance has been great. Like I said, I’m looking for five fighters, battlers, that will come in and play confident. Can’t play confident if you’re getting hit in the head. Now, if you’re hitting somebody in the head, you’ll be confident. If you’re taking all the shots instead of giving shots, you’re not going to be confident. We got kind of got worked there a little bit. I mean, pushed around, shoved around. Got to fight back. But anyway, thanks, folks.
On if Alabama surprised them tonight by how well they played …
“They’re a good team. They made a lot of shots tonight, almost all of their shots. They’re a good team but we didn’t show up today. We didn’t execute that well and we didn’t play to our best of ability but we’re gonna go back and practice, look at film and keep working to get better.”
On what Alabama did to beat UK to the basket so easily …
“They were driving the ball. It’s like when someone drives to the hoop off of a dribble and then they get to the basket. We just gotta play defense and tonight we let up a little bit on defense. Like I said, we’re gonna go back to practice and keep working to get better.”
On the difficulty of the style of Alabama’s play…
“They execute really well. They made a lot of shots. It’s almost like they were playing an AAU basketball game, like a circuit basketball game, but they made a lot of their shots and it worked for them, so hats off to them. Like I said, we’re gonna get back into the gym and keep working to get better. This is not where our story ends. We have a long journey, and this is still part of the beginning so we’re gonna keep moving and keep moving forward after this one.”
On potentially getting full of themselves and being over-confident…
“I wouldn’t say that. I take a lot of this game on me. I put the game on me. I didn’t show up to play today to the best of my ability. I let my team down and I put this one on me. We just gotta come to play including myself. My mind set wasn’t that, it just didn’t click for us today and that’s on me. That’s on me.”
On the passing of Ben Jordan …
“I learned as soon as I woke up, and I think it’s been pretty emotional around the guys that were actually around Ben last year. The players, at first, didn’t know because they didn’t know him, but since then it’s been pretty emotional. Everybody was trying to get together and just uplift one another.”
On the loss tonight …
“It was a butt-whooping for sure. It’s going to be something that we either just go look at film or its definitely going to be an adjustment. Everybody just has to stay together, and I preach to everybody on the team to just stay as one because our story is not over.”
On lack of defense …
“I know Alabama hit a lot of shots, and obviously that hurt us. It’s going to be an adjustment for sure.”
On how quickly Alabama operates its offense …
“Honestly, it’s like playing a pick-up game in the way that they play, like getting shots up quick and driving to the basket freely. We knew going into this game that it was like a hoopers game. You would have to sit down and guard because of the way that they played.”
On why the assist-to-turnover ratio was not good …
“Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s going to be something that everybody goes back and looks at the film. It’s going to be an adjustment, and everybody is going to get through it together.”
On how Alabama compares to other opponents this season …
“Alabama is a good team, as they just showed. But I feel like it’s just going to be something within ourselves that’s going to come next time. Everybody just has to be on their toes, and everybody has to continue to work hard.”
On if Alabama surprised UK in any way …
“I feel they played exactly the same way that the coaches said they would play. They would shoot a lot of 3s, then they would drive to the basket. They played the exact same way, but our execution was not there.”
On if the team had to choose between guarding the 3 or guarding the drive …
“In a way, but our game plan was to play up so it would force them to drive. So, I think that’s the best way to answer that question. The execution was not there. Everybody didn’t slide their feet as well. There were a lot of things that went into it.”