An overtime loss in the 2008 national championship game is not the toughest beat John Calipari has had as a coach.
On his weekly radio show last night, Calipari said the one-point defeat at Indiana last Satuday was harder to take. Understand, of course, he's talking about the circumstances and not the stakes involved.
Kentucky was 5.6 seconds away from escaping with a most unlikely win--given the venue and its rowdy atmosphere, getting virtually nothing in the stat line from Terrence Jones, spotty free throw shooting and giving up too many 3-pointers. Despite all of that, the win was in the Wildcats' paws until a lack of execution of the plan to utilize the two fouls UK had to give.
Calipari took the blame on his shoulders, noting that his team has not spent much practice time working on "situations," where coaches simulate late-game circumstances like the one the Cats faced against IU. That's part of the deal with teams so heavily on freshmen. Of course, as we've seen in the first two years of the Calipari era, the tradeoff is more than worthwhile.
And Calipari said you can put the blame on him for the way Kentucky practiced last week. He said he didn't make the practices tougher enough to match the physical play they faced from the Hooisers and that is changing this week. Calipari cited Jones in particular as having suffered from not getting properly prepared for that kind of game.
When the roster turnover is so great each year, it's just natural that it takes the coach a little more time to find out each particularly squad's personality and what the team needs in terms of preparing to realize its full potential.
Who knows, this could turn out to be the proverbial "good loss."
It should, for example, be a real-attention grabber for Jones. While it's great that Kentucky put itself in position to win without much of a contribution from its preseason All-America candidate, it's easy to see how the Cats could get upset on the way to a Final Four if he repeats that kind of performance in a big game in March. A performance like he had on that kind of stage is a serious blow to one's NBA draft stock and that should provide powerful motivation to Jones to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Saturday's game may also prove to be the performance that serves as the turning point for Marquis Teague.
Calipari gives his point guards plenty of freedom but he is also demanding of them. And when the coach benched Teague after a poor first-half performance against the Hooisers, it was actually a show of confidence--a belief that Teague had the mental toughness to respond when his next chance came. And boy, did he respond. Teague was arguably the Cats' best player down the stretch, hitting every shot he took without committing a single turnover.
In an enviroment that "hostile" doesn't begin to describe, Teague thrived. And he and his teammates overcame multiple 10-point deficits against a team that made its first six three-point shots in the second half. That kind of resiliency--especially when shown by a squad this young--has to bode very well for March.