John Calipari says players froze in loss at Notre Dame but plenty of blame for coach too

Freshman TyTy Washington didn't score in the second half at Notre Dame and missed a shot in the final 10 seconds that could have tied the game. (UK Athletics Photo)

It was not that hard for ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas to explain why Notre Dame beat visiting Kentucky 66-62 Saturday.

“Notre Dame has the lead because of smart basketball cuts they have made,” Bilas said during the game before he knew the Irish would finish with 38 points in the paint.

Once the game finished, Bilas added this: “The work Notre Dame did on the glass was ultimately the reason Notre Dame won this game.”

The Irish did outbound UK 33-28 and Oscar Tshiebwe, the nation’s leading rebounder at 15.4 per game going into this game, had just seven — and only one came in the second half.

That’s how a team with three wins coming into the game beat UK — along with UK going 2-for-19 from 3-point range. The Irish’s three other wins had been against teams with these KenPom Rankings: Cal State Northridge 294, High Point 264, and Chaminade, not even rated. That’s why this was a BAD loss for Kentucky.

Kentucky coach John Calipari watched his team get in position to win thanks to a three-point play by Davion Mintz and a contested 3-pointer by Kellan Grady that gave the Cats a 62-61 lead with 1 minute, 50 seconds to play. But just like last year, Kentucky could not finish a game.

On the UK Radio Network after the game, Calipari said he preached “defensive discipline” to his team.

“If we guard, we win the game. If you don’t guard and break down, we lose,” he said he told his team with five minutes to play.

What happened? He said Keion Brooks, TyTy Washington and Sahvir Wheeler all got beat and then the Cats gave up a 3-point goal when they were not supposed to be switching on defense but did any way.

“That’s nine points we gave them,” the Kentucky coach said.

Calipari said even though UK missed 17 of 19 3-pointers — and he said they were “good shots” — that the Cats could still have won “fi they guarded” better the final five minutes.

“We didn’t and you lose. It’s a great lesson,” Calipari said. “It stinks to lose. I would rather win a close game and say we got a lot of work on.”

Notre Dame was 7-for-22 from 3-point range to go with 38 points in the paint. The Irish also went 7-for-8 at the foul line where UK was 10-for-15.

“You have to make a shot to win a game. How about this? Make free throws to win the game,” Calipari said. “That is mental toughness that you are going to do that.”

Calipari also chastised his players for playing not to lose versus playing to win late in the game.

“We were 6 and 100 last year (actually 9-16) and guess what they (Notre Dame fans) did? They stormed the court. It’s Kentucky. You have to play to win, not lose,” Calipari said.

But here comes the crusher if you are a Kentucky fan.

“We had a bunch of guys who froze,” Calipari said.

Froze? How could that be?

Mintz, Grady, Wheeler, Brooks, and Oscar Tshiebwe have all played in big games. This atmosphere was only new to one Cat — Washington (and he missed the driving shot that would have tied the game 64-64).

Maybe Calipari froze by not making more adjustments or at least trying to make adjustments. Maybe Calipari froze by playing so many easy tune-up games in Rupp Arena that the players were not ready for a road game even against a team like Notre Dame that had been far from great so far this season.

Bottom line, plenty of blame to go around for this loss and plenty to make UK fans worry about the future even if it is just Dec. 11.

14 Responses

  1. I’m trying to stay on Cal bandwagon, but after yesterday I just don’t know anymore. In my opinion I think it’s time for a change to our basketball program Cal is too stubborn to change his style especially on defense had we play a zone they wouldn’t have made all the easy lay ups in the paint. We got long wing span guys and he won’t take advantage of it to play zone defense. I’ll will keep cheering on the cats. Go cats!!

  2. Coach should have taken one for the team, no excuses. UK, a ranked team going in, has one of the deepest benches in the nation, supposed to have a team full of shooters, Where they at? ND just outplayed the Cats, especially down the stretch. In this game, UK was sleep walking on defense. Can’t lose the rebounding battle either, not with the length UK has. They lose by four while missing 5 FT’s too. IMHO, UK needs a lot more fight from some of these players other than No. 34, Oscar is a player! He is fun to watch! Come on Cats, you are better than this!!

  3. Pathetic performance last night. I thought that we were supposed to have shooters this year. Apparently Not. Zero defense beat back door numerous times. I have defended Cal over the years but I now think it’s time for a change. Played too many cupcake games and this team was ready for prime time competition. In our next game against Ohio State could be slaughter. I have been a loyal Cat fan for 73 years but we need some serious introspection if we expect to be a top team.

    1. I hate to admitted proffessor your right and I really think he will hear it loud and clear this week. Enough is enough. The social media and the tweets is louder than ever that cats fans want a change.

      1. The one that has to understand this is Barnhart, not Calipari.

        Calipari has a tin ear with respect to the fans. He has been demeaning of the fan base since early on, and has been condescending towards fans.

  4. Wow, the world really comes crashing down on you when you lose a game like this. If we’re going to be wringing our hands so much, let’s use a little soap and warm water. Two birds, one stone.

  5. How about playing a 2-3 zone on inbound plays under our own basket. EVERY, EVERY game we give up at least one dunk or easy layup to the opposing team. Against ND it was 2 which cost us the game. Cal is too dam stubborn to play a zone. Geesh! Just play it for the inbound play at least. If it was the same player allowing it to happen then it is on the player, but, it is not. This is on Cal! Also disturbing is that not one of the coaches sees this as well or nobody in the media notices this trend. It has been happening for 10 years!

  6. Calipari is not a good coach, period. He is a very good marketer. He has survived up to this point on the talent that has come through the program. He has no out of bounds plays to try to score off of, he handcuffs the players and dosent let them use their talent. I can think of a coach during the mid nighties at KY if had all the talent that’s come through the program in the last 10 years Ky would have at least 3 more banners to hang. IMO the fans are ready for a change. If Kentucky finishes at .500 for the season it wouldn’t be a surprise. No NCAA Tourney..

  7. One of the first comments I heard that came out of Calipari’s mouth was that he would pass the ball to a man breaking for the basket slightly behind him so that he would have to stop and pass the ball back to Calipari. That is not a Team First comment, that is a selfish comment. His salary should be on merit , not reputation. Reduce his compensation and make it based on his successes. I could go on but I think I would make some fans angry.

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