LAHAINA, Hawaii — Kentucky expected to learn about itself in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. In that context, the 84-67 loss to Connecticut in Wednesday's finals made the trip a successful voyage of self-discovery. That form of success extended from coaches on down.
"You thought you were doing a good job," UK Coach John Calipari said after the game. The first loss of the season, especially the nature of this defeat, changed his mind.
"You better really buckle down and coach him," Calipari said of freshman point guard Brandon Knight, who committed 13 turnovers in the final two games here and made just three of 15 shots against UConn. " ... These guys are 18 years old, and they need to be coached, and I need to coach them. I can't just say, 'You guys will be fine.' "
Calipari made Job One sound like getting his collection of mostly talented freshmen playing as a unit."We were a selfish team today," the UK coach said of the game against UConn. "I don't have any idea why we got this selfish."
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Thinking out loud, Calipari wondered whether the seeds of this defeat were planted the night before against Washington. The Huskies pressed the ball and gambled for steals, all but forcing the kiddie Cats to force the action. "You have to drive it," Calipari said.
As ESPN commentators said, Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun had "a history" with Calipari that dated to the contentious UConn-UMass regional rivalry in the 1990s. Calhoun knew Calipari's dribble-drive philosophy, so he put a priority on "making sure every time someone drove, we had two guys there."
To Calipari's horror, the Cats kept driving at a set-and-ready man-sized UConn interior defense.
"No one would pass," Calipari said. "At halftime, I made it clear: We will pass the ball or you're coming out. That's the biggest thing I took from it. ...
"In the first five minutes against Connecticut, we looked like we haven't been coached. Whoever gets it, shoots it. If they can't shoot it, shoot it anyway. And if three guys are there, shoot it through three guys. What about the guy in the corner? 'I'm not passing it.' "
Calipari suggested the Cats reverted to old habits. Perhaps the fatigue of playing a third game in three nights weakened the attention to detail.
"They reverted back to eight months ago," Calipari said. "Eight months ago playing in Las Vegas in an AAU tournament. 'I'm getting mine.' 'He shot it, so I'm shooting it.'
"Now as a coaching staff, we understand what we have to do."
Of course, UK fans could expect some growing pains for a freshman-oriented team.
And predictably, the offensive struggles affected Kentucky's defense. UConn's 57.7-percent shooting easily bettered the previous best shooting accuracy by a UK opponent this young season.
"When you're shooting poorly and taking bad shots, it leads to easy opportunities (for the opposition)," Calipari said. "When a (teammate) is open and passed up three straight times, is he really encouraged to defend? What we did on offense bled right into our defense."
Calipari also cited a matter of trust. The Cats still aren't sure they'll get help if they rotate into position should a player leave his man to contest an open opponent.
Throw in foul trouble and Kentucky faced a real problem against Connecticut.
When Terrence Jones picked up his second foul with 9:01 left in the first half, Calipari faced a difficult choice made harder by his team's inexperience and short roster. The Cats trailed 29-22. Should he keep the team's more productive player on the floor and risk a third or fourth or fifth foul?
Darius Miller had picked up his second foul 27 seconds earlier.
"You say, you don't want to lose the game in the first half," Calipari said.
Jones joined Miller on the bench.
With its lead 29-27, UConn went on a 21-2 run in the final seven minutes of the first half.
Calipari noted how contested shots led to fast-break opportunities for UConn. Kemba Walker, the Maui Invitational's Most Valuable Player, scored 10 of his game-high 29 points in that stretch.
His back-to-back three-pointers in a 36-second span buried Kentucky and were part of his 90-point tournament, leaving him three shy of the event's individual scoring record.
"But he wasn't the only guy," Calipari said.
UConn (5-0) got contributions from many players. Alex Oriakhi (18 points and 11 rebounds) "owned the middle," Calhoun said. Freshman Niels Giffey, a native of Germany, made a pair of three-pointers and scored 14 points. Freshman Shabazz Napier had 12 points, four assists and two steals.
The many contributors were "what made the game so special for us," Calhoun said. "We're incredibly happy."
A play that displayed UConn's one-for-all spirit stood out for Calhoun. Late in the 21-2 run, Walker passed up an open shot to pass to teammate Jamal Coombs-McDaniel for a layup.
"Which helps our team so much," the UConn coach said. "That shows a lot. We're in this together and we're a family."