Former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino likened defeat to fertilizer. A team could use a loss to foster improvement going forward.
By that rationale, Kentucky’s 118-84 opening-game loss to Duke on Tuesday was a heaping pile of, er, fertilizer. Afterward, Coach John Calipari spoke of his players benefiting from the experience.
“I told them, ‘We all have to do some soul-searching here,’” Calipari said in his postgame news conference. “‘And let’s figure this out. What happens with young guys, when they struggle, they get a little rattled. And you’ve got to be careful. We’re teaching.”
Kentucky planned to take off Wednesday, Calipari said. That would give the Cats one day to prepare for the next game, which is Friday against Southern Illinois.
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“Most of it is going to be about us,” Calipari said of this preparation. “What we have to do, and how we have to play. ...
“This is one you watch the tape, learn from it — boom! — move on.”
Calipari and graduate transfer Reid Travis suggested that one thing Kentucky can learn from the loss to Duke is how to handle adversity.
Duke got off to a fast start, which Kentucky did not handle well.
“We splintered,” Calipari said, “and then guys tried to do their own thing.”
After twice falling behind by 21 points in the first half, Kentucky rallied to within 12.
“We had our chances, but we kind of broke off,” Calipari said.
Travis spoke optimistically of a lesson that could be learned.
“I feel as we progress throughout the season, we’ll really get to the point we can stop the bleeding,” he said. “I feel tonight we didn’t do a good job of that. ... As we mature as a team, we’ll be able to stop runs, and capitalize ourselves.”
‘Don’t look up’
“I was telling them, just stick with what we do,” Travis said of his advice during the game to his younger teammates. “I mean, don’t look up at the scoreboard. It got out of hand there. At the end of day, we know how we need to play, how hard we need to play. ...
“That was the biggest thing I was saying. Stop looking up. Just continue to do what we’re supposed to do.”
With the hope of a comeback erased, Calipari said he would have voted for a running game clock.
“With eight minutes to go, (he told the UK players), ‘we’re not calling a timeout,’” he said. “‘And if you foul, I’m taking you out of the game. Let this thing run.’”
Point guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley combined for five assists and four turnovers. They made one of six shots (0-for-3 from three-point range).
“I told the point guards in the hallway, I’m going to spend more time with you,” Calipari said. “I’ve got to get you on the same page with all of us (about) how we need you to play.”
Calipari did not criticize the many fans who left Bankers Life Fieldhouse well before the final buzzer.
“They do travel,” he said. “And they’ll watch the tape more than I’ll watch this tape. But that’s what coaching and playing at Kentucky is about. We represent the state, and they take pride in the program.
“And this hurts.”
All grown up
Reid Travis played on the same AAU team with former Duke point guard Tyus Jones. But until Tuesday, he had not played with or against Jones’ younger brother, Duke freshman point guard Tre Jones.
“He was just a little runt running around when I played (in AAU), which is a lot of respect to him,” Travis said after Kentucky beat Indiana-Pennsylvania last Friday. “The way his game has blossomed. He’s matured in his body. He doesn’t even look like the same kid, the same player anymore. When I see him now, he’s grown a lot. Very athletic. So a lot of credit to him and his hard work. When we were playing, he was shooting at a side hoop at our practices.”
The younger Jones played 33 minutes against Kentucky. In that time, he made only two of seven shots, but he got credit for seven assists while not committing a turnover
November to remember?
As Kentucky coach, Calipari’s record in November slipped to 55-6. Four of the losses came in the Champions Classic: to Duke in 2012, to Michigan State in 2013, to Kansas in 2017 and now to Duke again in 2018.
Mike Krzyzewski’s record in November games as Duke coach improved to 158-15.