Two days after Duke obliterated Kentucky, 118-84, in the most lopsided loss of John Calipari’s career — and his first defeat in 10 season openers with the Wildcats — the UK head coach was looking ahead to the home opener against Southern Illinois.
“We gotta get five guys who will fight like heck and leave them in and play them as long as they can play,” he said Thursday. “Find those five who will fight together and play together and leave them in and then the rest of you will sub in when they need a break.”
A day after that, UK announced a new starting lineup just before tip-off against the Salukis.
Calipari went with Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis, switching in Quickley for fellow freshman point guard Ashton Hagans, who started at Duke and in the Cats’ final exhibition game against IUP last week.
Immediately after the Duke loss, Calipari specifically mentioned the point guard play as one of many areas for improvement.
“I grabbed the two point guards and told them after down in the hallway that I’m going to spend more time with you,” he said. “I’ve got to get you guys on the same page with all of us how we need you to play.”
Hagans had two points, four assists, three turnovers and four fouls in 19 minutes Tuesday night, while Quickley had six points (all free throws), one assist and one turnover in 19 minutes. They combined to go 1-for-6 from the field against the Blue Devils.
Calipari said Thursday that he’s still trying to figure out how to best use his five-star point guard duo.
“I’ve had all kinds of different point guards,” he said. “Like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) kind of spoiled us. Shai became like John Wall, Brandon (Knight). You know, he became — and now he’s in the NBA doing that. We don’t have that guy. He’s not on the roster. Do I play them like I played my UMass point guards? When I had Derek (Kellogg) and when I had Edgar Padilla? Do I play my point guards that way, which is more a facilitator than is the guy that’s going and — I’m still learning. I’m trying to figure it out, and that’s what happens. If I thought we could do some of the stuff, just spread the court, ‘You go beat the guy.’ Come on. You’re watching the game. We don’t have those guys. It’s not who we have. But, I’m telling you, we have really good players.”
Friday night’s starting five lasted just 2 minutes and 24 seconds — and fell into a 7-2 hole — before Calipari subbed in Nick Richards and Quade Green for Reid Travis and Tyler Herro.
Hagans came on for Quickley at the 15:23 mark with the Cats trailing, 10-5.
The lineup tweak marked just the third time that Calipari has made changes to his starting lineup after one game for solely basketball reasons since he became UK’s head coach.
Last season, Shail Gilgeous-Alexander started the season opener but was replaced by Quade Green as UK’s starting point guard in game two. Green stayed in the starting lineup until early January, when Gilgeous-Alexander returned to that spot for the rest of the season.
Calipari started freshman Charles Matthews in the opener of the 2015-16 season before replacing him with junior Derek Willis in the second game. Willis was replaced with freshman Isaiah Briscoe in game three, and Calipari continued to make changes to his starting five throughout the season, ultimately ending up with 10 different lineups, the most during his time as UK’s coach. Matthews started just two more games and transferred after just one season.
On three other occasions, Calipari has made changes to his starting lineup between game one and game two, but all of those instances were related to off-the-court issues:
▪ In 2009, Darnell Dodson started the first game of the Calipari era because John Wall was sitting out due to suspension over eligibility issues. Wall returned to the lineup in game two.
▪ In 2011, Terrence Jones came off the bench after being involved in a late-night car accident less than 24 hours before the season opener against Marist. Darius Miller started that game, but Jones replaced him in the lineup after that.
▪ In 2012, Ryan Harrow started the first game of the season but didn’t make the trip to Atlanta for game two against Duke due to what UK called “flu-like symptoms”. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Julius Mays. Harrow returned to the starting five later on but struggled in his only season at UK. It was later revealed that he didn’t have the flu early in that season and was instead suffering from stress over his father’s failing health at the time.
In Calipari’s other four seasons at UK, his starting lineup did not change between the first two games.
2010: Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson.
2013: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein.
2014: Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns.
2016: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis and Bam Adebayo.