It isn’t news that Kentucky has lost four straight games, which equals the program’s longest losing streak since 2009.
But if you like to turn negatives into positives, UK was playing giveaway rather than basketball the last four games.
“It’s not like they were taken,” UK Coach John Calipari said of the losses. “They were given. And we’ve got to get out of that mode.”
The cumulative margin in losses to Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Auburn was 32 points.
In each case, UK looked its age — or lack thereof — with victory or defeat in the final five minutes. Of the end of the game at Auburn on Wednesday, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said, “We did some dumb things.”
And sometimes the opponents did smart things, too.
Missouri made 13 of 14 free throws in the final 3:03. Tennessee made a clutch three in the final 30 seconds while Gilgeous-Alexander turned it over twice. At Auburn, UK trailed 68-64 with 3:14 left. But no baskets in the game’s final five minutes helped doom the Cats.
Kentucky will try to get back to winning Saturday against Alabama, which has won two straight and eight of the last 11 games.
UK will try to avoid only the third five-game losing streak in program history since 1925.
Of this trying period, Calipari said, “This could make us what we are going to be at the end of the year or it could break people down.
“What I’m trying to do is say, ‘Let’s use it as fuel. Let’s have this make us stronger.’”
Calipari said he must be mindful of the damage the Cats’ struggles can inflict. “I have to be aware of the doubt that losing puts in their minds,” he said.
But he added that such doubt was not evident leading into the game at Auburn.
“All the stuff before Auburn was terrific,” he said. “Kind of similar to the way they were before West Virginia. (On Thursday) they were fine. They look at my eyes. They want to know. Please tell us. Like there’s no magic wand.”
Gilgeous-Alexander expects Kentucky to eventually get its season turned around.
“We’re all staying positive,” he said. “Once we get out of this, we’ll go on a little roll and everything will be on the other side of the rainbow. We’ll be all right.”
And it’s not like opponents have mopped the floor with Kentucky. Six of UK’s nine losses have been by single digits.
But Calipari took only so much solace in Kentucky playing competitively in every game so far this season.
“We’re not that far” from excelling, he said. “But we’ve got to win a game. Close doesn’t get it.”
Calipari echoed a sentiment voiced repeatedly this season by Southeastern Conference coaches. The league is hotly competitive.
“We’re all within three to five points of each other,” he said.
With so many games decided in the final four or five minutes, some defeats are inevitable. But this reality is not universal.
“I’m at Kentucky,” Calipari said. “It’s hard to convince anybody you’re supposed to lose any games.”
Alabama Coach Avery Johnson said much the same thing Friday when asked about Kentucky’s four-game losing streak.
“People always think coaches are trying to make an excuse …,” he said.
Of losses to Missouri, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Auburn, Johnson said of the Cats, “They’re not playing against themselves.”
The NCAA Selection Committee marked Auburn as a two-seed last weekend. A&M was ranked as high as No. 5 at Christmas. Tennessee is ranked and …
“Missouri looks like a team that can play against anybody,” Johnson said. “So part of it is a byproduct of this conference. And when I first got here, you’d be embarrassed in some ways to be 9-9. Now, people are saying 9-9 for a lot of teams might be a good year because of how tough the conference is.”
When asked how difficult it might be to convince Big Blue Nation that an improved SEC meant some losses for Kentucky, Calipari gave a knowing smile.
“I’m not worried about convincing fans of anything,” he said. “I would hope we’ve established enough of a relationship … with a vast majority of the fans that they trust the program is in good hands.”
Calipari seemed to believe that Kentucky need not travel far to reach the other side of the rainbow referenced by Gilgeous-Alexander.
“I really believe if we can win one, I think this thing starts changing for us,” he said. “But you’ve got to win one. And nobody’s going to give us anything.”
Alabama at Kentucky
When: 2 p.m.
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: Alabama 17-9 (8-5 SEC), Kentucky 17-9 (6-7)
Series: Kentucky leads 110-37
Last meeting: Kentucky won 79-74 on March 11, 2017, in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at Nashville.