Kentucky coach John Calipari didn’t mince words or make excuses after his team’s 71-64 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament final Sunday in New Orleans.
He said dead legs “had nothing to do with it” and noted that UK’s lackadaisical start for the third straight game in New Orleans set the stage for the game-winning rally by Vanderbilt and gave the Cats a dose of what they had done to several other teams during their 24-game win streak, including 18 straight SEC wins
“We had to make shots down the stretch (UK missed its last 13 shots), and we couldn’t. That’s what I¿have been talking about for three days. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist played 16 mintues and did not have one rebound. Terrence Jones rebounded in the second half, but it was too late. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller got shots and didn’t make them. We got every look we wanted to get down the stretch and we made none. We didn’t make a basket (the final eight minutes).
“What’s the lesson? If we are supposed to be up 15, you better be up 15 so you can end up winning by six if this stuff happens. We had our chances. We are moving on. I am fine. We have no winning streak. Our fans got to see us play three games. They are disappointed we did not win, but it’s not like we lost in the first game. We are moving on.”
They are moving on to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed in the South Region. They get to start play in Louisville against either Western Kentucky or Mississippi Valley State, the team coached by former UK standout Sean Woods.
Kentucky’s second game could be against Connecticut, the team that beat UK in the Final Four last year and won the national title. Next? What about Indiana, the only team that had beat UK before Vanderbilt did? Finally, if the NCAA selection committee seedings hold, UK would play Duke in the South Regional final 20 years after the historic 1992 overtime game the Blue Devils won on Christian Laettner’s bomb.
And you expect me to believe that CBS-TV does not play a role in tournament pairings to get the best story lines?
But the potential roadblocks for a return Final Four trip are not nearly as difficult as what UK faced last year when it had to beat Ohio State and North Carolina just to get out of the East Region.
“I certainly think there is some pretty good Final Four and championship royalty there when you consider Duke is in that particular region,” CBS-TV Sports analyst Clark Kellogg said. “Kentucky has been the No. 1 team for most of the season by a decent amount compared to other teams. I don’t see it (the South Region) being a real ‘resistant’ region. UConn has struggled a bit. Baylor is extremely talented and Duke has played at a pretty good level for most of the year. Kentucky is still clearly the favorite there.”
Kentucky’s 24-game win streak was snapped because the Cats couldn’t score against Vanderbilt’s zone to end the game. Calipari said at the time he was confident to have Lamb and Miller take shots, but they missed 3-pointers and well as runners in the lane.
“If I had it to do over again now that I know what I know, we would have gone to more of a power game. But I am so confident in Darius and Doron that I did not imagine they would miss everyone,” Calipari said. “Now I look back and wish we had thrown it inside, but I originally said no because they were beating the crap out of us in there. We couldn’t turn and get a shot up. But we are the best 3-point shooting team in our conference. Why not have confidence?”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings walked by Calipari during his radio interview and told Calipari he had a “hell of a team.” Calipari told him, “We both do.”
Calipari told Stallings maybe they would play again in the NCAA.
“I would take next door (in the Superdome in the Final Four),” Stallings said. “That would be fine.”
Calipari plans to show the team film of simple breakdowns players had that led to only UK’s second loss of the season.
“We just have to get back to knowing the difference between swagger and arrogance. When you give up on plays, you are being arrogant,” Calipari said.