Coach Cal and the Cats talk about Saturday’s SEC semifinal loss to the Vols
After Kentucky lost to Tennessee on Saturday, PJ Washington offered some encouraging words to his teammates.
“He just said, obviously, we still have more games to play,” Tyler Herro said. “Keep our heads up. The next tournament is the big tournament. If we win that tournament, nobody will say anything about this one.”
Reid Travis, a graybeard at 23 as a graduate transfer, said Washington spoke of putting the 82-78 loss in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals in perspective.
“Yes, learn from this,” Travis said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. We should be excited about that. We should be excited to go into the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously, we wanted to win this tournament, and we gave all we could to it. … We shouldn’t be down on ourselves.”
For example, South Carolina lost its first game in the 2017 SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks then advanced to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
In terms of learning, Travis blamed himself for trying to draw charges while guarding UT star Grant Williams down the stretch.
“That’s on me,” he said. “I’ve played enough games to understand you can’t do that. They’re going to call it a little tighter at the end of games.”
In the locker room minutes after the game, Kentucky players did not sound ready to turn the page and focus on how the defeat might impact seeding and bracketing in the NCAA Tournament.
Ashton Hagans agreed that a No. 1 seed might have been on the line. “Whether we’re a one-seed or not, we’ve just got to go back and get ready,” he said.
As for playing in the region based in Louisville, Travis said, “I’m not ready to think about that. To be honest, I’m just trying to process this and get better from it. Who we play is the next biggest game for us.”
UK Coach John Calipari used humor to deflect a question about how the loss might impact his team’s profile for the NCAA Tournament.
“I think we’ll be in,” he said. “I don’t even want to say anything. I could tell you what our bracket will look like if you’d like to know. I’m just kidding.”
Laughter erupted in the postgame news conference.
More seriously, Calipari said the NCAA should return to the S-curve for bracketing. For instance, the top 2-seed plays the worst 1-seed if both teams advance. The best 1-seed plays the least 16-seed in the first round.
Since 2001, the Selection Committee has put a higher priority on keeping teams as close to home as possible.
“Everybody charters,” Calipari said. “Doesn’t matter where you’re playing. … Just do the S-curve. It’s easy. But they have a reason why they don’t do it. I don’t agree with it, but I’m not in the room doing it.”
Oh those refs
Hagans said there were a “lot of bad calls out there.”
Travis offered perspective on a block-charge call that went against him. He tried to draw a charge on Williams with 4:03 left. One referee signaled charging. Another signaled blocking. The call was blocking.
“I thought I was there,” Travis said, “But it was a fast-paced game. I mean, there’s not much you can do. We get calls that go our way, too. By no means was it the refs took the game from us. We made mistakes. I didn’t make certain plays that would have won us the game.”
Williams twice tried to draw charges on Keldon Johnson down the stretch. Both times, the referees called blocking. The second of Johnson’s three-point plays gave UK its largest lead: 72-64 with 2:58 left.
Afterward Williams said teammate Lamonte Turner chastised him for trying to draw charging calls.
“Lamonte and I got into it a little bit because I took a charge when I probably should have just gone vertical,” Williams said. “And at the time, I was, like, ‘Yeah, Lamonte’s right.’ But you don’t want to give him that satisfaction.”
Williams smiled as he said Turner was right.
On Friday, Admiral Schofield and Williams spoke of Kentucky not showing respect in the 86-69 victory over the Vols in Rupp Arena.
When asked if the Vols earned UK’s respect Saturday, Schofield said simply, “I think so. I think so, yeah.”
Travis was puzzled by the idea of Kentucky not respecting Tennessee.
“I don’t know where that comes from,” he said. “We try to respect every opponent. We have a lot of respect for them. They have good coaches, great players. It’s a great program.”