Gillispie shows little emotion after loss

John Clay
John Clay

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For him, Billy Gillispie seemed almost uncharacteristically relaxed.

In the Joyce Center auditorium that housed the post-game press conference after this NIT quarterfinal game, answering questions from the media, Kentucky's basketball coach sat back in his chair with his legs crossed.

He wasn't leaning forward.

He wasn't rocking back and forth.

He wasn't wringing his hands.

The nervous habits were nearly absent.

Oh, he still flashed that thin smile, and his voice quaked a little. He stammered a couple of times, and his eyes looked red, either the product of emotion or the bloodshot look that comes when you watch nine tapes of opponents' games in less than 48 hours.

But, in less than another 48 hours, Gillispie could be out after just two years as Kentucky coach.

And once his Cats lost 77-67 to host Notre Dame before a crowd of 7,636 — nearly half of it dressed in Wildcat Blue — Billy Gillispie seemed a man resigned to his fate.

Press conference question: What's next for you?

"Get better," said the coach.

Question: Do you expect to be back?

"I'm working," said the coach. "My expectation is to work hard every day. I loved the way they competed. We got beat, we missed a few assignments, those kinds of things, (but) I loved the way that they played."

Question: How do you feel about all of this judgment going on after just two seasons?

"There's only one judgment that I will really ever be concerned about, and I hope I pass that judgment," said Billy Gillispie. "That's the only one I will ever be concerned about, and I'm really proud that's the only judgment that will ever have a real effect on me, and I hope I pass that one with flying colors."

The nearly foregone conclusion is that he hasn't passed UK's judgment with flying colors, that President Lee T. Todd Jr. and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart will announce soon that a change is being made, that a 40-27 record and a differing interpretation of job description will cause the program to move in a different direction.

But on this night at least, Gillispie moved in the same direction. He acted no differently. He coached no differently.

His team played no differently, unfortunately. Much as it has done this disappointing year, it played hard, but not always well.

Its 10 turnovers were particularly untimely. It gave up 11 offensive rebounds. It couldn't handle Notre Dame's Luke Harangody inside, the Irish center throwing in a game-high 30 points. And it couldn't defend well enough from the perimeter. The Irish made 12 of 25 three-pointers. Kentucky made seven of 14.

The Cats did fight back. They didn't quit. Down 57-41, UK charged back to within five points at 67-62 when Perry Stevenson dunked with 2:41 left. But the visitors could draw no closer. Time ran out.

It's likely to be the same fate for the head coach.

Afterward, in the seclusion of the losers' locker room, Gillispie told his team it had better things to worry about.

"He said, 'Don't worry about me,' " said center Patrick Patterson. "He said, 'Don't worry about the situation, don't worry about if I'm getting fired or not. Don't worry about it. Focus on yourselves. Focus on this basketball team."

But now, the 22-14 season done, the water under the bridge, the focus turns to the future. The immediate future. And who will lead this team.

Wednesday night, Billy Gillispie had the look of a man resigned to what the future held.

"When you work for another man," he told Tom Leach during the post-game radio show, "that's another man's choice."

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