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John Calipari and Davion Mintz recap late loss at Missouri

5-11.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A 5-10 Kentucky Wildcats team coming off an unexpected pause to their season had to travel to play the No. 18 Missouri Tigers on Wednesday with little to no momentum.

If you’d spent just a handful of minutes watching Kentucky this season, you would’ve probably expected Kentucky to come in and get handled on the road.

However, while the Wildcats will now have to wait until Saturday for the chance to celebrate a victory, they did have somewhat of a “moral victory” in their 75-50 loss to the Tigers. For Big Blue Nation, a loss will never qualify as a moral victory.

However, for these Wildcats, it has to be good for something. They still turned the ball over, they shot 56% from the free throw line, Devin Askew is still struggling, and it feels like the Wildcats lost a game they definitely could have won.

But we knew this team wouldn’t go from worst to first overnight. While their now 5-11 record is nothing to smile about, they kept it close on the road against a highly respectable team. That’s a small step towards the hopes of turning things around towards the end of the season and in to the SEC Tournament, which will end up being their only hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s what head coach John Calipari and his Wildcats had to say following the loss.

John Calipari

On the final four minutes of the game …

“Well, let me give you a couple of things. One, we threw it to the post and we drove the ball six times and it was good, the guy decided ‘I’m going to shoot a jumper this time.’ We did miss a front end one-and-one. The other one, I made a call that I shouldn’t have made. I went to the stuff that I used in the past. This isn’t like my past teams. So, we went to our circle stuff, we couldn’t even get the guy open. And we’ve been working on it but this is a different team. The last play, Lance (Ware) didn’t know what was called and I looked at the team and I’m like ‘you guys are out there together.’ What we have right now, I think they all want to win but I still think they want to win on their terms. I’m the one that set up the play for Keion (Brooks) to take the three at the top. We did the same thing with Olivier (Sarr) and we popped him to the top. And then I was going to do the same thing with Keion. He didn’t shoot it quite as well but it was the shot we wanted. In the second half, we shortened the rotation because those guys were playing pretty good. Made some dumb plays, got a technical and did some stuff to stretch the game out and the guys that were in the game did a great job. I mean, we shot 60 percent. I gave Cam (Fletcher) a chance, we gave Dontaie (Allen) in the first half, we were trying everything we could. And then when we got going in the second half, I just left it alone.”

On why Dontaie Allen did not play in the second half …

“We shot 60 percent in the second half and I just ran with the guys that were playing well. And if you watch, what they were doing to Dontaie, they were going right at him defensively. So, whoever he was on, that’s what they were doing. Our biggest thing was, we were getting great stops and scoring. So, next game, he may play 25, 30 minutes. This game, it was my choice. I rode with the team that was playing well in the second half.

“The circle call was ridiculously dumb because we had thrown it to the post, I don’t even know what I was thinking. And I also went and we put Davion (Mintz) in a pick-and-roll, you know, I mean, questionable. And that’s on me, not the kids. As we go, we just continue, I’m still learning about what these guys are capable of. And again, it’s not like we didn’t play in the last four minutes. We knew what we were doing, we were playing, we defended, we just, again, turned it over. Seventeen turnovers, you’re not going to win a game like this. We had a play where Dontaie, in the first half, was wide open on a wing and we threw a ball across our body through two defenders and the guy steps out of bounds. Dontaie had no one on him. That’s the plays we’re making right now. And all of those are turnovers. I mean, the last lob to Isaiah (Jackson). Where can you throw the ball for Isaiah, and he’ll go get it? Over the shot clock and he’ll go get it. You throw it low? I mean, that’s just like, come on, now.

“The way we finished the half, this team came out, fought. And I played a funky lineup, I played some funky teams and they played. Part of it was, I was doing it for defense because we had to get some stops to get us where we were. So I did what I did for defense.”

On Devin Askew …

“Well, first of all, we don’t have whole a lot of point guards right now. I can play Devin and Davion at point. Matter of fact, Devin got hurt in practice before we left. We thought he wasn’t going to play in this game. So now I was trying to put, you ready, B.J. (Brandon Boston Jr.) at point guard. And we practiced with B.J. at point guard. You only have so many guys, so these are who we have and we’ve got to figure out how we’re doing this. And so, with him, he did some good stuff. He still, decision making not always great. But he plays hard. What was the change we did for him that made it a little easier for him in the second half? If you were watching. We didn’t have him on number one. We put Davion on number one. I said, let’s put Davion on him, he’ll give him more trouble and Davion did.

I just was hoping we would get out of here with a win. The way we played in the first half I just said ‘look guys, you’re better than that, let’s go. Let’s step on the gas and we’re going to go.’ See, everybody can say what this team is, I’m with them every day. Let’s open it up and drive it, how did that look? I’m with them every day, we’re trying a lot of different things. Playing faster was really good, we just didn’t make any baskets. Now, we settle to who we are which is throw the ball to the post and let’s play off of that. Now, we can’t play a whole game like that. But, basically, that’s what it came down to. If you remember, when we had Julius Randle, for half a season, that’s all we did. We just said, we’re giving it to him and playing off of him, until the other guys caught up.”

On losing in a similar way after hoping this game would be a reboot …

“Well, we didn’t practice. There were five days, we did not practice four of them. And we came back and practiced one day and we had what we did yesterday. So, some of it, the way we started, I can tell you that when you have a basketball team take that much time off, you’re going to have some of that. But, look, we’re going to continue to work on the last four minutes. I got upset with Keion. We were running stuff to get Keion the ball late (in the) clock and he settles for jump shots. And he drives it and loses it so he doesn’t want to drive it any more. You can’t play that way. So again, we were searching for stuff and where we searched was our big guys.”

On Terrence Clark, Jacob Toppin and assistant coach Joel Justus not making the trip …

“And Jacob, both of them. And Joel stayed for that reason. I want to see the kid (Clarke) practice tomorrow and Friday to see if there’s any chance that he could play against Tennessee. So, he didn’t need to be here. In basketball, when you’re looking at a guy, what, we needed a cheerleader? He didn’t need to be here. He needs to get ready to try to play that game Saturday. If he can’t practice, without limping, Thursday and Friday, then he won’t play Saturday and we just keep it out and we’ll see where this thing goes. It comes to a point where you’re out five, six weeks, means you’re just not capable, the pain is too much for you to play at all. So that’s why we left him at home.”

On offensive adjustments …

“Well, part of it is how they played. They didn’t come out. They did a little bit, when they jumped out, we’re not good when they do that to us. But when they drop back, the pull-up jumpers, there’s some space, you can get in there and make plays. But again, when we opened up that court to drive it, you’ve got to get somebody that can get by somebody. And then can make layups. And so, we’re going to continue to mess with things and tweak stuff, we’re going to continue to work on the last four minutes of the game and how do we…the crazy thing is, with my other teams, we knew exactly what we were doing in the last four minutes. This may be game-to-game. And I’ll be honest with you, it may be player to player. Like today, I thought Isaiah was unbelievable and did good stuff. I thought Lance fought like crazy. We just, we did enough to give ourselves a chance and then, you know, an ugly turnover, a decision, a call by me, the three for Olivier was a called play. But I also went back and said, OK, now we’re going to do this and we’re going to do it for Keion. And he was open, just didn’t make it. But those were calls. The circle play that you guys have seen me use historically, I went to it because that’s what I’ve always done and it didn’t look very good in this case.”

Davion Mintz

On not having a “go-to guy” …

“Yeah, the last four minutes, it’s been crucial for us in the past couple of games. We’ve been practicing, working on how, strategizing what we want to do, but every game is different. And we’ve just got to figure it out and be better in the last four minutes, especially playing teams that are really good and can thrive in that time.”

On why he didn’t take the last shot …

“I’ll have to look at it again, see how everything broke down. I’m not really sure.”

On what makes him optimistic about the season …

“Seeing the guys’ faces in the locker room. No one’s happy after a loss. Everyone’s down. The reason I feel optimistic is because no one has at this point accepted losing. As much as it has happened already, people are still upset. We’re all still not happy about it and just moving on with our day we still talk about it and we still have guys and coaches that are trying to make the efforts and do everything we can to put it in the right direction.”

On how tough it is to keep losing in the last four minutes …

“Extremely tough. There’s been a common denominator of every game, so I feel like when we find the answer to it, we’ll feel a lot better. The thing is we’re working on it and we’re strategizing. We just had our first practice, I think, day before yesterday, where Coach brought us in and said, ‘OK, here’s the problem. We have to win the last four minutes.’ And we’re trying to come up with schemes. It’s tough but we have to figure it out.”

On what made the difference in improved shooting and potential takeaway s…

“I mean, just desperation. We had to make shots. We were in a position where it wasn’t, you know, we didn’t have an option to miss it. When you’re in that type of situation where it’s make-or-kill, you’re kind of more locked in. We have guys that want to do this, that want to win as bad as anything. So, in those situations, you make shots. And like you said, difference, we have to come out stronger and start games the way we are playing in the second half.”

On how realistic playing in the NCAA Tournament seems …

“I’m not sure. Probably about 14 or so more games. I’m not sure where we’re at. Ten or more games to see where it gets us.”

On whether tonight’s turnovers were caused by something different …

“Yeah, I’ve got to be more careful with the ball. I know last game I didn’t protect it well either. I take responsibility for that. And the last, my last turnover, I got one of the highest jumpers in the country, I threw it a little too short to him. But that type of stuff was eyes on the point guards and I take full responsibility for that. And you can’t have that in the last four minutes. We can’t have that. You’re going to make mistakes when you’re playing aggressive and trying to make things work and figuring out. But at some point, it’s just unacceptable.”