As John Calipari saw it, Tennessee enrolled Kentucky in the school of hard knocks Saturday night. And a 76-65 loss to the Vols did not mark graduation day.
UK has a “toughness issue,” Calipari said. No doubt, future opponents took notice.
“They watch tape and say, ‘Just throw these guys around; they will not fight back …,’” Calipari said. “‘Post them hard. Go right at them and don’t fade away.’”
Tennessee seemed to copy the strategy used by LSU against Kentucky earlier in the week. LSU big man Duop Reath scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against UK. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield filled that role for Tennessee. The pair combined for 38 points and 17 rebounds, numbers surely inflated by cramps sidelining PJ Washington for the final 12-plus minutes.
Opposing big men had posted double-doubles against UK in the four most recent games. Schofield came within a rebound of doing the same. Williams was two rebounds shy of a double-double.
On Friday, Calipari announced that Kevin Knox was practicing with UK’s “bigs” in an attempt to make him more aggressive and more of a presence around the basket.
The results were mixed. He made only one of nine shots (0-for-5 from three-point range). He scored six points and grabbed five rebounds.
“He just needs to keep going at it,” Calipari said. “And when that part of his game comes around, then he’s that guy.”
Calipari acknowledged in instilling toughness there are no quick fixes.
“It’s something we’ve got to fix day to day,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. It’s a process. With these guys. I had to say it. Sometimes you’ve got to get hit in the mouth to learn.
“The question is do they understand what just happened to them. And I believe they do.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had been UK’s hottest player. For a team that showed its lack of age with inconsistent play, he was a relative model of consistency. In the last three games, he averaged 21 points, made nearly half his shots (20 of 41) and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than two-to-one (12 assists, five turnovers).
Gilgeous-Alexander struggled against Tennessee. He made only one of six shots. His five turnovers were one shy of his season-high of six against Kansas.
Calipari said Gilgeous-Alexander made the mistake of throwing passes directly to teammates around the basket rather than lobs.
“They were physical and up in him,” Calipari said. “But I’m not worried about Shai. Shai’s fine.”
‘Took it personal’
Yes, Wenyen Gabriel said, PJ Washington warmed to the challenge of facing Grant Williams, whom SEC coaches voted to their preseason all-league second team.
“He really got into it,” Gabriel said. “He took it personal, especially in the first half. When PJ got hot, we kept going back to PJ.”
Often matched up man to man in the first half, Washington outscored Williams 11-2.
“I’ve known PJ for about two or three years,” Williams said. “I knew he was going to come out and compete. He’s a fiery guy.”
Cramps forced Washington to the bench for the final 15-plus minutes. Williams scored 12 of his 18 points with Washington out of the game.
“I know that hurt PJ personally,” Gabriel said.
Kentucky got a taste of the SEC’s new system of monitoring replays.
The referees went to a monitor at the scorer’s table with 6:36 left in the first half. At question was whether a post-up basket by Nick Richards beat the 30-second shot clock.
Meanwhile, the SEC set up space at the conference office to check replays at all league games.
During the Tennessee-Auburn game on Tuesday, SEC Network analyst Debbie Antonelli said she hoped the new system would not lead to more delays to check calls. She said she hoped “the monitor is not a crutch.”
The intent of the new system is to speed up checks on the monitor. Referees at the game have final say.
In this case, Richards’ basket was ruled to have come after the shot clock expired.
A second check of the monitors at the sideline and presumably the SEC office came with 17:17 left in the second half.
A collision between Wenyen Gabriel and Williams prompted the check. Either Gabriel charged or, as the call on the court had it, Williams was guilty of a blocking violation.
The surprising result was technical fouls on coaches John Calipari of Kentucky and Rick Barnes of Tennessee.
Tennessee gained a home-court victory over UK for a third straight season. That hadn’t happened since Florida and Vanderbilt did it almost a decade ago. Florida beat UK in Gainesville five straight times from 2005 through 2009. Vandy did it four straight times from 2006 through 2009.
It was only the fourth time since 1981 that Tennessee beat Kentucky by a double-digit margin. It had happened only once since 1992: the 88-58 loss in 2013 (UK’s first game after Nerlens Noel tore an anterior cruciate ligament). …. Kentucky’s lead in the series in Knoxville slipped to 52-50. … UK and Tennessee played the 223rd game in the series. Saturday’s was the 18th in which both teams ranked in The Associated Press poll. UK’s record slipped to 11-7 in those games.