Wildcats Host Gators on Saturday
Everything appeared to be moving in the right direction for the Kentucky men’s basketball team. And then the loss at Tennessee occurred.
|Kentucky vs. Tennessee|
|Sat., Feb. 6 - 4 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | UF
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||UF|
And now the Wildcats are grinding it out in practice to try to get back to where they were just one week earlier.
“We’ve been going at each other and we’ve all been embracing what we’ve all been doing,” junior forward Marcus Lee said. “There’s a whole lot of yelling, screaming at people to give more to the team. That’s not just coming from the coaches. That’s coming from the players, coming from leaders, trying to get more from each player.”
Plenty can change in a short period of time.
Kentucky traveled south to Knoxville, Tenn., coming off a four-game stretch where it had won three conference games by an average of 22.3 points and gave then-No. 4/3 Kansas everything it could handle before losing in overtime.
The Wildcats appeared to be a totally different team from the one that had blown a 12-point second-half lead at Auburn on Jan. 16, and the opening 14 minutes and 14 seconds of the game against the Volunteers on Tuesday did nothing to dissuade that notion. Kentucky was blowing the doors off Tennessee, leading by 21 points, and had taken the crowd of 19,295 out of the game.
But then the Cats got lax, took a few possessions off, gave Tennessee some confidence, and were outscored 71-43 over the final 25:46.
“For 15 minutes we played,” Calipari said “There’s 25 minutes and the world’s coming to an end.”
“It’s hard, but at the end of the day you gotta look at it as it’s just a long season,” freshman guard Charles Matthews said. “Our season doesn’t end from one loss and a win wouldn’t have made a championship for us either. So we still have to move on from it.”
Kentucky (16-6, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) had the day off Wednesday, but that didn’t stop the team from getting up early and working out. Coach Cal said on his call-in show later that day that 12 players were up working out in “the breakfast club” that Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe had started.
The Wildcats then had one of their more physical and demanding workouts of the season Thursday. The session focused primarily on defense, an area that has been sorely lacking over the previous two games in which UK allowed 1.11 points per possession at Kansas and a season-high 1.25 points per possession at Tennessee.
“Emotionally, I think we’re ready to be the aggressors now, and I’ve seen that in practice,” Lee said. “A loss like those, you see players kind of regretting practice and kind of just hesitating and not really excited for it. It’s been the total opposite. We’ve all come into practice trying to get better. Our practice was through the roof the other day. That’s just the way I saw it and that’s the way you get over games like that the best.”
And according to Coach Cal, Lee’s play was through the roof. Whether that carries over to Saturday’s game or not is still up in the air, but there’s no question that if it does carry over into the game, Kentucky automatically becomes a different team.
“He was really, really good yesterday to the point of like the old Marcus Lee from earlier this year,” Calipari said. “Will he be that tomorrow? That’s the hard thing about what we’re trying to do with coaching. If he really does his thing, it kind of puts everything in a spot that we’re good with. If you’re on the side scrambling, who’s next? How do we do this? It just makes it hard.”
Florida (15-7, 6-3 SEC) enters Rupp Arena as winners of five of its past six, including a 16-point victory over then-No. 9 West Virginia in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. The Gators, led by first-year head coach Mike White, are ninth nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, and Coach Cal said Friday he believes they are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, averaging 13.6 offensive boards per game.
“They’re really good,” Calipari said. “They’ve got good size. They have a 3-point shooting four. Their guards are good. Their defense is – they’re playing, they look like my old UMass teams. They’re giving you one tough shot. When you drive, you’ve got five guys near you and they’re rebounding with five guys. He’s doing a good job with that team. A really good job.”
One of the keys for Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena (4 p.m. ET on ESPN) as it begins the second half of its league schedule, will be to see how the Wildcats respond to their loss at Tennessee. After their loss at Auburn, Kentucky responded with a 14-point win at Arkansas in the always difficult Bud Walton Arena. In order to avoid their first-ever three-game losing streak under Calipari, Kentucky may need a similar performance against Florida.
“This is a game-to-game thing for us,” Calipari said. “I have to worry about Florida. I’m not worried about the last game and I’m not worried about the next game. Let’s just play well this game. If that’s not good enough then we move on to the next game.”
UK Loses Rare Back-to-Back Game at Tennessee
For the first time since 2014 and just the seventh time in the John Calipari era, Kentucky lost back-to-back games with an 84-77 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.
UK led by 21 points in the first half, but Tennessee closed with a 23-8 run just before halftime, took its first lead with 14:09 left in the game, and then held off Kentucky’s attempt at stealing one in the final minutes. It was the biggest lead the Wildcats had blown in the Calipari era and just the third time in 181 games in the Calipari era that UK led by 10 or more points in the game and failed to win.
The loss wasn’t without another outstanding individual performance from sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis. He recorded his fifth straight 20-point game and his ninth such one in the last 11 games. He also added five assists, improving his school record (since assists were available in 1972-73) of 20-point, five-assist games to 10 on the season.
Freshman guard Jamal Murray scored a team-high 21 points to continue is double-digit scoring streak to 20 games. Senior forward Alex Poythress added 14 points and five rebounds and freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe chipped in with 10 points and eight boards.
• UK fell to 0-4 on the season when allowing 80-plus points
• The Wildcats lost the rebounding battle, falling to 1-5 this year when finishing the game at a rebounding deficit
• Tennessee made 30 free throws, the second straight game UK has allowed the season-high 30 free-throw mark
• UK’s two steals were tied for its fewest in a game this year
• Briscoe and junior Derek Willis tied for the team high with eight rebounds
• Freshman forward Skal Labissiere blocked three shots
• Ulis fouled out for the first time in his career
• A UK player has scored at least 20 points in each of the last 12 games, the longest such streak at UK since 2008-09 (12 consecutive games between Dec. 20, 2008 and Jan. 31, 2009)
No Surrender Here
Surrendering a 21-point lead at Tennessee on Tuesday wasn’t just unusual for Kentucky in the John Calipari era, it was downright rare.
UK is 178-3 in the Calipari era when leading by at least 10 points at any time in the contest. Two of those three losses (a 21-point lead at Tennessee and a 12-point lead at Auburn) have come during the 2015-16 campaign. The only other loss in the Cal era came during the 2012-13 season when UK gave up an 11-point first-half lead and lost 59-55 at Alabama. All three losses have come to Southeastern Conference foes on the road.
Perhaps most impressive of all is that 72.4 percent of games Calipari has coached in at Kentucky have produced 10-point leads at some point during the game for UK. The Wildcats have led by 10 points or more in a whopping 86.4 percent of Calipari’s 206 career wins at Kentucky.