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John Calipari recaps loss to Auburn: “We made strides”

The Cats had a chance to beat a top-10 team on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas A&M C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, and another loss for the Kentucky Wildcats.

That makes four straight losses for the team, bringing their record to an underwhelming 17-9 (6-7 in SEC).

For most of the game, the guys played well. They were eliminating Auburn’s biggest weapon in the three point shot, playing aggressive on the offensive end, and finally starting to play transition basketball.

Auburn ended the game on a 18-7 run after Kentucky was able to garnish a 1 point lead with 6:45 left to go. In what used to be a strength for this team, late game execution has proven to be a consistent problem as of late. Sloppy turnovers and missed shots galore.

It all went downhill after PJ Washington missed a wide-open layup with 2:30 left to go in the game that resulted in a three-point bomb from Auburn to put them up 7. After that, the crowd was going nuts and you could tell Kentucky wasn’t coming back from that.

With the Cats now being 17-9, they’re going to have to put it in high gear if they want to compete in the NCAA Tournament this year. The worst part is, the road does not get any easier. They face a tough Alabama team followed by an equally tough Arkansas team.

Buckle up BBN, it’s going to be a bumpy end to the season.

Here’s what John Calipari had to say in his post-game presser.

On how well they competed …

”They did good. We made strides today. What you have, again, we get a lead and a guy has a shot and because he hasn’t made one he drives it out of bounds baseline. You have a wide-open shot. Guys like Wenyen (Gabriel), who I think are pretty good shooters don’t make a shot, layup—well, he made some dunks—not a jump shot, not a 3, not a free throw and we have our chance to win the game.

“We made some dumb, inexperienced plays down the stretch. We made strides. I kind liked that smaller team. And they’re not small: 6-9, 6-9, 6-9, 6-9, maybe. I kind of liked that team in there. You hold this team to 36 percent and 29 from the 3 when they’re shooting 50 and 45 and you outrebound them on their court, only have six turnovers the second half, which is about that number.

“But again, (Mustapha) Heron, left, left, left on the same guy and they score eight straight points and we miss all these shots. I feel for them. Poor Hami (Diallo). He’s making strides and getting better. He needed that 3 to drop. And that thing went (all around the rim). We would have been up seven and it just didn’t go. I feel bad for him. I told him, ‘Just keep working, man.’

“But he looked rattled out there and I just said, ‘We gotta win the game.’ You gotta worry about egos later when you’re just trying to win a game. Auburn, terrific team. They fight, they scramble, they come up with balls and if you give them a chance to make 3s they make them. And then the first half, I lost my mind. We came into the game: guard the 3 and we’re not fouling.

“They had 31 points out of (39), whatever they had at halftime, from the line and from the 3. And I look at my team, ‘Is anybody listening to me on this?’ We went in and they threw out for 3. We did well for a while, but—look, we’ll just come back. We got another tough game. We got Alabama, who’s on a win streak and beating everybody’s brains in and now we got them.

“The league is not what it’s been and now you have no room—we don’t have any room for error and as a coach I gotta keep them going and just get to work and say, ‘How do we get better and what do we do to try to turn this around?’ Good news is I’ve done this for 30 years. Haven’t had one of these for a while. It’s probably good for the soul. I wish it was good for someone else’s soul, not mine.”

On whether he’s concerned about making the tournament …

”I got one thought: Let’s just try to win the next game. Just win a game. I really believe if we win a game we’ll get going. I’ve had teams in this kind of mode that we’re in, but the league was different that we could go get a league game somewhere and we knew, ‘OK, finally.’ Well, guess what. Did Vanderbilt win tonight?

“I mean, there’s none here. There are no—you better come and play. And the other thing is, everybody gives us their best shot. There’s no one that’s going to not play against Kentucky, especially if they think they got a chance to beat you for the first time in six years. Now all of a sudden, it’s, you know.”

On what he wants to see out of this team …

”We fought today, so—well, let me say this: They had three loose balls in the first half that we didn’t get and they were in our hands that they threw out for 3s. You’re not going to win. There were some plays down the stretch, again, our ball, their ball. They’re coming up with them. But we fought today. I thought we did. I’ll watch the tape. We did some good stuff. We’re trying to figure out again how we need to play. I like where we have a different kind of team in there and how we’re playing. I think we’re getting closer. We’ll just see.”

On whether they fully capitalized on their height advantage …

”Again, we missed some there too. The one-footer, it was a four-point game. It wasn’t like nine. It was four. Make that, it’s two, let’s see what happens. We missed it. So we did do some good stuff, but we did miss it. One of our things was that we should be able to get these guys near that rim. I was telling them, ‘Don’t turn it over. Shoot it and let us try to rebound it.’ But they do a good job. They front and they jam you. They did it to us.”

On their development in late-game situations …

”Again, late-game situation, you gotta do what the team needs you to do. If they need you to shoot the ball, you gotta shoot it. Wenyen (Gabriel) took all open shots. They were wide open. Just didn’t make any, but he had to shoot that. If he walked or did something else, I would have lost my mind. He shot them and missed them. Hopefully next game, get in the gym, spend some time at night or in the morning, build your own confidence and go from there.”

On why Sacha Killeya-Jones didn’t play …

”I told him prior to the game I’d probably go small. So I told him prior, I said, ‘Nick (Richards), you and Sacha, I’m just going to tell you right now, if I think we’re better playing a smaller lineup…’ Because they’re not the physical—like what Texas A&M is is physical. So those two guys being there really bothered these guys. Those two are not that way. So now all of a sudden, their physique, Auburn’s, they way they play against those two I didn’t like that. But I liked PJ (Washington) and I liked Jarred (Vanderbilt).”

On Vanderbilt and whether he played the way he wants him to …

”Yes. Yup.”

On seeming composed during this losing streak …

”I’m old. I’ve been through just about everything. I just say, I’m not fazed by it, I’m not cracking. When you say that, this isn’t about me, OK? This season is not going to change anything about me, but my concern is I got a bunch of young kids that at times don’t listen, they don’t trust. And I told them last night, I failed them. I haven’t built enough trust where when I talk to them, ‘I’m going to do what this man says.’

“They’re not that. I don’t know if it’s outside stuff, but I told them I’ve failed them. But they’ve also failed each other. Because they don’t play for each other. They play like—again, if a guy gets eight straight points scored on him, do you really want to win? If you want to win, that’s just not happening, but you’re not concerned about that. You’re (concerned about) how you’re playing. We have to get by it. But I’ll say it again: My concern is these kids. And I’m not worried about record, my record, my whatever you want to say. I’m old now.

“We get on a run and we go to the Final Four this year, it doesn’t change me, but I’ll tell you what. It helps these kids. We go the wrong way and we don’t get it going it’s affecting these kids. I am fine, which is why again, there are some ways that I’ve failed these guys and there are some ways they’ve failed each other. All that comes back to trust and being together and knowing that this is about them. I don’t do this—it’s not about me. I don’t want it to be about me. I’ve had enough stuff written and said, most of it bad, about me so I don’t need any more. I’m good. Let me go on and just try to help these kids.”

On whether he believes a Final Four run is possible …

”Yeah, I do. I do. You saw that team out there. If that’s a No. 1 seed and we’re on their court and we got a four or six-point lead with a chance, but everybody’s gotta play for us. And again, the other thing, we gotta make some shots. This is the game of basketball. When you’re wide open, if you don’t think you can make a 3, make a 2. We just gotta do that.”