UK coach John Calipari still likes his team, says Cats have a lot to learn
UK coach John Calipari yells instructions to his team during the loss to Baylor Saturday. (Clay Jackson / December 1, 2012)
“We should have lost seven games,” the Kentucky coach said following his team’s 64-55 setback to unranked Baylor, ending the team’s 55-game home winning streak, one that his predecessor Billy Gillispie began when Kentucky defeated UNLV in the NIT at Memorial Coliseum in 2009. “We just happened to win those games.”
That particular team won 16 straight games before losing to West Virginia in the Elite Eight. The following season, Kentucky struggled on the road and lost nine games, but the Wildcats remained perfect at home to keep the impressive string of victories intact.
The Kentucky coach wasn’t “fazed” after the Wildcats dropped their third loss of the season to the unranked Bears, a setback that likely will land the eighth-ranked Wildcats near the bottom of the Top 25 poll when the rankings are released Monday.
“Look, I’m fine,” he said. “I knew we weren’t very good. What I need our players to understand is that we are not a very good team right now and we are not individually very good.”
Although Calipari had an idea his team would struggle seven games into the season, he was somewhat amazed his team even had a chance to defeat Baylor after shooting 29.6 from the field, the lowest shooting percentage any of his teams have amassed since he’s been at Kentucky. Even if the Wildcats would have pulled it out, Calipari would have been shaking his head following the contest and considered it the “greatest thing.”
“We didn’t deserve to win the game,” he said. “If we would have won the game, it would have been, like, ‘what in the world? We just shot 30 percent and won the game.”
Although his team was “better at throwing the ball up the court” instead of “dribbling it” up the floor against Notre Dame, it wasn’t the kind of bounce back game Calipari expected following Kentucky’s 64-50 loss to the Irish Thursday in South Bend.
Aside from the paltry performance from the field, which included an 18.2 percent clip behind the arc, Kentucky committed 16 turnovers, with Baylor scoring 23 points off those miscues. Another issue was Kentucky’s lack of determination.
“We needed a competitive spirit and we needed more of a will to win,” Calipari said. “We are trying to find it.”
The lack of understanding showed when Kentucky fouled the Bears best free throw shooter — Pierre Jackson — not once but twice down the stretch. It also showed when Nerlens Noel blocked a shot and didn’t get the rebound when the Cats were trailing by three late in the contest.
The back-to-back losses were the first for the Wildcats since dropping a pair of consecutive fashion against Ole Miss and Florida on the road during nearly two years ago. That squad, which lost nine games, got its act together down the stretch and reached the Final Four before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut in the national semifinals.
Although Calipari doesn’t want his team to get into a habit of losing games, he wants to players to develop a will to win, a process that freshman guard Archie Goodwin says takes time.
“It’s a learning stage and a learning process,” Goodwin said. “It’s better to lose early than late and we can do all of this now, but it really doesn’t matter in March. We’ve got to learn certain situations and how to react in them.”