After Kentucky defeated Missouri 72-62 on Tuesday night, Coach John Calipari walked into what he called “a happy locker room” and delivered a sobering message.
“We’re going to have to play better,” Calipari said he told the UK players. “… The only thing I told them is, you know, we’re not where we need to be. We’ve got to start getting better.”
Confidence, or the lack thereof, was the inspiration for the we-must-improve reminder, Calipari said. The UK coach mentioned Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis as two players who did not appear to be confident.
“Even Dom (Hawkins) didn’t play with the confidence,” Calipari said. “… I told them after the game, now is not the time to be antsy. It’s when if you lose, your season ends. That’s not this.”
Calipari saw possible significance in the three-pointer Gabriel made. It came with 5:50 left and extended Kentucky’s lead to 60-52.
“I was so happy,” Calipari said. “He was playing shaky. But he made that one, and it was a big one.”
After Kentucky won 67-58 at Alabama 10 days earlier, Tide Coach Avery Johnson lamented that his team lost a “winnable game.”
When asked if he saw the game against Kentucky as winnable, Missouri Coach Kim Anderson said, “I think every game is winnable. … Obviously, some are harder than others, and I’d rank this toward the top in difficulty. (UK) is a really good basketball team.”
Game preparation and the 40-minute competition gave Anderson a closer look at Kentucky. He lauded Kentucky.
“I think they really have good chemistry,” he said. “And we were maybe able to disrupt that a little bit.
“But I think they understand their roles. They know where their bread and butter is. And they know who to get the ball to when they need to win the game. And tonight they got it to (Bam) Adebayo. Last week it was (De’Aaron) Fox.
“When you’ve got three or four weapons like that, that makes it tough.”
Calipari said he deserved the technical foul he received with 7:47 left in the second half.
“I did not swear,” he said, “but I deserved it. I did deserve it.”
To back up the contention that he did not curse, Calipari said, “I was at Mass this morning with all the kids at church. Begging for forgiveness, knowing I was going to get a technical tonight.”
Isaiah Briscoe committed six turnovers, one shy of the career-high seven he had against South Carolina a month earlier. That gave Briscoe 29 assists and 28 turnovers in UK’s last seven games.
“He was better today,” said Calipari, who called for patience as Briscoe tries to return to form. “It took him two, three weeks to get to where he was. Now, it’s going to take him time to get out of it. He’s in the first week of it. He’s probably two weeks away from really breaking he needs to do to get back to where he was.”
Bam keeps composure
Not for the first time, Calipari pointed out how unselfish Adebayo is. More than once this season, the UK coaches have said Adebayo is too nice and should demand the ball more.
“He’s on a team with guards who like to shoot the ball, now,” Calipari said. “He just keeps playing. He doesn’t say much. And it’s on me to make sure we’re throwing him the ball more.”
Calipari suggested that Adebayo’s poise extends to the officiating.
“He gets beat up,” Calipari said before suggesting a rationale for this. “Well, he’s big. They have to do that to guard him. I didn’t know that was a rule. But I guess it is.”
Mizzou Arena has a listed capacity of 15,061. Of the Tigers’ first 15 home games this season, five had an announced attendance of at least 10,000.
The largest crowd was 11,434 for the Feb. 4 game against Arkansas.
Among SEC teams, Missouri ranked eighth in average home attendance overall (8,108) and in league games (10,128).
Missouri announced the attendance for the Kentucky game as 11,574, which was the largest crowd of the season.
UK equaled a season-high 17 turnovers. The Cats also had 17 against Valparaiso, at Tennessee and against Kansas. … The mother of J’den Cox, a two-time NCAA champion wrestler for Missouri, sang the national anthem. Cox won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.