Kentucky basketball: Latest blowout on road leaves Calipari blaming himself

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 7, 2013 

  • Next game

    No. 11 Florida at Kentucky

    When: Saturday, noon (CBS-27)

ATHENS, Ga. — On the bright side, Kentucky solidified its chances for an NIT bid Thursday night by losing 72-62 at Georgia.

Or, if you prefer more immediacy with your delusional optimism, Kentucky surely made Florida overly confident going into Saturday's can't-get-here-soon-enough regular-season finale.

The familiar problems of the season re-asserted themselves. No reliable go-to guy. No defensive stopper. Not enough willpower to compensate for questionable manpower.

Coach John Calipari had called the last two road performances "abysmal." By that standard, the loss to Georgia fit the unsightly polka dots-with-stripes pattern.

"It's the same stuff," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Different day."

Rather than blame the players, who soldier on without Nerlens Noel, Calipari blamed himself. "I've done a crap job with this team," he said.

But a fourth straight road defeat by a double-digit margin (that didn't even happen in the lost Eddie Sutton-coached season of 1988-89) suggested Kentucky's dilemma is more than simply a lack of effort or poor coaching.

"It's completely off Coach Cal," Cauley-Stein said. "We have one regular-season game left. There's not much left you can coach us about."

UK shot poorly, which hurt the chances of capitalizing on an unusually cold shooting night for Georgia star Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He made only six of 19 shots, while still being productive (24 points and 10 rebounds). The Cats made only 37.1 percent of their shots, the second-worst accuracy since the loss to Baylor on Dec. 1.

Kentucky, which fell to 20-10 and 11-6 in the Southeastern Conference, trailed the final 27 minutes. The Cats fell into a four-way tie for second place. Never mind an NCAA Tournament bid. A double-bye in next week's SEC Tournament is no sure thing.

Archie Goodwin, who led Kentucky with 20 points, accepted that premise that UK fans could be doubtful.

"I don't blame them for doubting us," he said. "We've not given them reasons to believe in us."

Kentucky finishes the season Saturday against SEC regular-season champion Florida. Calipari spoke of that game's potential to be a revival.

When asked how the season can be saved, Calipari answered quickly. "Beat Florida," he said. "That's what I told the team: Beat Florida and this all goes away."

Georgia, which led by as much as 15 points, enjoyed its first victory over Kentucky by a double-digit margin since 1990 (and only the third since 1972). The Bulldogs improved to 15-15 overall and 9-8 in the SEC.

Kentucky took the initiative early. Three early baskets by Cauley-Stein (two of which were dunks) helped the Cats lead 13-7 at the second television timeout.

"They came in with some fire, you could tell in everything that they were doing," Georgia senior center John Florveus said. "It was a big game for them. They were on the bubble. I don't know how this will affect them, but we just had to withstand that and try to come out with the 'W'."

Georgia led 31-26 at halftime thanks to Caldwell-Pope's three-pointer in the final seconds.

Although Caldwell-Pope missed nine of his first 10 shots of the second half, Georgia took charge.

The Bulldogs got a big lift from sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic, whose 12 points were one shy of his high against an SEC team this season. He hit two three-pointers, the first time he's made more than one in a game since Dec. 29.

Djurisic's biggest basket came with little more than seven minutes left. Kentucky had narrowed a 10-point deficit to 50-47.

After a timeout, Djurisic got the ball in the low post and scored against Cauley-Stein with a nifty left-handed baby hook off an up-and-under move.

Kentucky, which made only 15 of its first 43 shots, did not recover.

UK made only 11 of 29 of its first-half shots. The 37.9-percent accuracy marked the Cats' second-poorest first-half shooting since the Louisville game. The worst since then came in the debacle at Tennessee in the first full game without Noel (nine of 27).

The same old-same old made Cauley-Stein sound demoralized.

Of the NCAA Tournament bid slipping away, perhaps for good, he said, "It doesn't even matter to me, now. We've just got to go day by day and try to take care of business against Florida.

"At least compete."

Next game

No. 11 Florida at Kentucky

When: Saturday, noon (CBS-27)

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.comNext game No. 11 Florida at Kentucky When: Saturday, Noon (CBS-27)

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