BOZICH | Calipari questions Kentucky's toughness after Kansas defeat
Kentucky lost to Kansas, 79-73, Saturday, a defeat that will leave a major hole in the Wildcats' resume in their quest to earn a Number One seed for the NCAA Tournament.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – Coaches from the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences agreed to step away from league play on the final Saturday in January for one reason:
Earn a victory likely to resonate with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
On Saturday when Kansas and Kentucky played at Rupp Arena, this is what the wise guys said was on the line:
A Number One seed.
Write this down for further reference on Selection Sunday: Advantage Kansas.
The short-handed Jayhawks crackled into Rupp, fell behind by a dozen points 10 minutes into the game and then surged past John Calipari’s team for a 79-73 victory. The Wildcats (17-4) have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and for the first time since they lost to Tennessee and Kansas in consecutive games last season.
"We got out-toughed and we didn't guard the way we need to guard," Calipari said.
Out-toughed? Calipari saw evidence of it because the Jayhawks shot nearly 59 percent in the second half and grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.
Out-toughed? On an afternoon when UK invited fight announcer Michael Buffer to deliver his "Let's Get Ready To Rumble," pre-game introduction?
"If he says we lack toughness, he's the coach," said Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe. "He'd know."
Somebody asked Briscoe if he agreed with Calipari's assessment.
"I think we lack toughness," he said. "I agree with him. You can't teach toughness."
Here is the thing that will be tough for the Wildcats to overcome now: There’s a hole in their resume. They’ve played four Top 15 teams – and they’ve lost to three of them.
They beat North Carolina on a neutral court. They lost at Louisville. But they’ve also stumbled at home to UCLA and Kansas. That’s not the profile of a Number One seed.
Without another Top 15 opportunity on their schedule, it’s difficult to project Kentucky on the Number One seed line.
"This is always a process here when you're talking about young players," Calipari said. "I can remember 2014. We were dying and then they got it at one point and all of a sudden we took off."
That’s a worry for another day. On this day, today Calipari’s idea has to be fixing his team’s offense and free throw shooting as well as its toughness.
Malik Monk started like a guy who wanted to be the first pick in the draft – and then disappeared. He made his first five shots. Then missed his next six. There was a 25-minute gap between field goals by Monk.
Credit Kansas. Like most coaches, Bill Self of Kansas typically refuses to play a zone defense. But he mixed in a 2-3 as well as a triangle and two, designed to slow Monk. It worked.
Monk finished with 18 points, a team high, but he was outplayed by Kansas freshman Josh Jackson, who gave the Jayhawks 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"I told the staff, we can't go eight minutes without him shooting the ball," Calipari said.
"I think it was important that we eliminated him scoring off screens," Self said. "We kind of shaded their shooters."
De’Aaron Fox threw the ball away five times. Bam Adebayo threw it away four more. The Wildcats lost all their offensive momentum by turning the ball over 17 times and by struggling at the free throw line.
"We've been a low, low turnover team until the last three games," Calipari said. "Now all of a sudden we're averaging 17 turnovers a game. That shouldn't be who we are."
"Our guards are really young and they're trying to make plays," Briscoe said. "But they have to learn you have to take care of the ball. Each possession counts."
So does every free throw. On when Kansas missed eight of 18 shots from the foul line, Kentucky failed to take advantage. The Wildcats missed nine of their first 15. Don’t reach for your calculator. That’s 40 percent. They finished 13 of 22.
On an afternoon NBA scouts filed into Rupp to see UK freshmen Fox and Monk as well as Jackson of Kansas, Calipari’s team received steady work from a senior.
Don’t blame Derek Willis. He made his first five shots – all from distance. Like Monk, Willis also had 18, although he surrendered a rebound to Jackson for a critical put back in the final 69 seconds.
Kentucky had chances to make the Jayhawks surrender in the first half. Plenty of them.
The Jayhawks looked lost any time they were more than arm’s distance from the rim. The statistics said that Bill Self’s team typically makes better than 41 percent of its three-point shots.
Not on Saturday.
The Jayhawks took eight shots from distance in the first 20 minutes. They missed all eight.
Why was Kentucky’s lead only five points (32-27)?
Simple. The Wildcats turned the basketball over 10 times. The missed six of 11 free throws. They let the Jayhawks crawl back from a 12-point hole.
That trend did not continue in the second half. Three of the Jayhawks’ first four field goals were three-pointers. Kansas edged into the lead. They mixed up their defenses. They outscored the Wildcats 26-16 in the paint in the second half.
The Wildcats face two late games next week. Georgia visits Rupp Arena for a 9 p.m. game Tuesday but the Bulldogs are not the primary draw. ESPN announcer Brent Musburger is. It will be his farewell to the play-by-play world before he retires to Las Vegas.
Next Saturday the Wildcats travel to Gainesville for an 8:15 p.m. game with the Gators, who rallied with victories over LSU and Oklahoma this week after losing two conference games last week.
"Look," Calipari said. "I hate losing. But I think there are a lot of people that wish they had my problems. Let me say that."
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