Sporting etiquette demands that losing teams do not make excuses. As such, Kentucky Coach John Calipari insisted that the illness that hit his team earlier in the week was unrelated to Saturday’s 97-92 loss to UCLA.
“No, no, no,” Calipari said. “Had nothing to do with anything. The factor in the game is they played better than us and they played harder in than us.”
Senior Derek Willis said that five or six UK players had not been feeling well since the team returned from the Bahamas. Among those players were Isaac Humphries, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Dominique Hawkins, he said.
“I’ve had nausea and stuff,” Willis said. “Last night I was running from my bed to the toilet like the whole night. Just one of those things.”
But Willis made sure reporters understood he did not mean to suggest illness was the reason Kentucky lost.
“I haven’t been to sleep in, like, 20-some hours,” he said. “I didn’t go to sleep last night. Not to make excuses.”
Perhaps in hopes that a lighter load would help players deal with illness, Calipari canceled the usual pregame shoot-around.
Calipari second-guessed that decision.
“I’m not making an excuse,” he said. “That was my choice. Now that I see the result, I would have had a shoot-around this morning. I just felt maybe they were mature enough to do this. I’m learning about this team.”
UK players suggested that the loss will benefit the team.
“Yeah, without a doubt,” Willis said. “Any loss is always good. It’s a learning experience. We have a new team again.”
The latest freshman-oriented Kentucky team needs experience.
On the plus side, having sufficient talent is not the issue, Willis said.
“We’re definitely one of the most talented teams … ,” he said before correcting himself. “No, we are the most talented team. We’ll fix all this stuff and when it’s March Madness time, we’ll be straight.”
No. 1 no more
Safe to say Kentucky will not be No. 1 next week. Calipari’s record as coach of a No. 1-ranked UK team fell to 69-7.
Bam Adebayo saw no big difference in how opponents will play against a UK team not ranked No. 1.
“We’re always going to have a target on our back,” he said. “I mean, we’re the University of Kentucky. That’s how it’s going to be all year.”
After UCLA freshman T.J. Leaf scored scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Calipari said Kentucky needed better defense from the forward position: Meaning Wenyen Gabriel and Willis.
“You’ve got to be able to guard that guy,” the UK coach said. “I mean, like I said, that was a problem for us.”
Willis acknowledged his position has been a defensive weak spot.
“Without a doubt,” he said. “I think that’s where a lot of our, like, defensive breakdowns can stem from. … I know we both have the energy and capabilities to do it.”
Also on UK’s to-do list is Malik Monk getting to the foul line more, Calipari said. Monk did not shoot a free throw against UCLA.
“I told him at the half I wanted him to get to the line 10 times,” Calipari said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to work on that and show him what that means.”
Monk is averaging 2.4 free throws per game.
“I’ve just got to attack more,” he said. “Stop settling for a lot of jumpers.”
Calipari said he wanted Monk to seek out contact on drives.
“There are no flips at that point,” he said. “You’re going to get fouled. ‘I’m going in there to get fouled. Maybe I make an and-one, but I’m not shooting a step-back fade-away flip left-handed scoop.”
Going out of business
Ex-Cat Kevin Grevey attended the game. He is a longtime scout for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Grevey said his restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area will be closing at the end of business next Sunday. Grevey’s Restaurant and Sports Bar will hold its last “watch party” that day when Kentucky plays Hofstra.
Grevey has been operating the restaurant for 37 years.
UCLA’s 97 points were the most scored against Kentucky since the last season of Billy Gillispie’s time as coach. VMI beat UK 111-103 to open the 2008-09 season. … UCLA lived up to its No. 1 ranking in field-goal shooting accuracy (55.3 percent going into the game).
Valparaiso at Kentucky
8 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network)