UK Men's Basketball

UK-Tennessee notes: Cats’ five losses to unranked foes not unprecedented

Video: John Calipari after loss at Tennessee

Kentucky coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team blew a 21-point lead and lost 84-77 at Tennessee.
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Kentucky coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team blew a 21-point lead and lost 84-77 at Tennessee.

In losing 84-77 at Tennessee on Tuesday, Kentucky lost to an unranked opponent for the fifth time this season. That might seem like a lot. But it really isn’t.

In 67 seasons of playing during the time that The Associated Press has conducted polls, Kentucky has lost to five or more unranked opponents 26 times.

It’s happened to two of John Calipari’s teams since he became UK coach. The Cats in 2012-13 lost nine games to unranked opponents. The Cats of 2010-11 lost to seven unranked opponents.

The current Cats aren’t even close to the Kentucky record for losses to unranked opponents in a season. The UK team of 1988-89, the season that crumbled under the weight of a NCAA investigation that cost Eddie Sutton his job, saw 16 losses to unranked opponents.

In 1966-67, the season after the magical Rupp’s Runts captured UK fans’ hearts, Kentucky lost 11 times to unranked opponents.

Then again, here’s a sobering thought: Of the four Southeastern Conference teams with the worst Ratings Percentage Index, two beat UK (Auburn and now Tennessee) and one nearly rallied to beat UK (Mississippi State).

Silent Cal

Apparently, several questions in the postgame news conference stumped UK Coach John Calipari. Or he did not want to share the answers with the public and his players.

When asked about Alex Poythress’ fast start (10 points inside the first 10 minutes) and unproductive final 30 minutes (four points), Calipari said, “He’s not here. So I’d tell you to ask him.”

When asked about UK’s excessive fouling, Calipari said, “I can’t … ” He did not utter another word. Under Calipari, UK has defended without fouling excessively. The Cats went into the game ranked outside the top 200 nationally among teams committing the fewest fouls.

Kentucky had three more baskets than Tennessee, but the Vols had 12 more points from free throws.

When asked if the UK players had lost confidence, Calipari said, “You’ll have to ask them. They’re on the plane.”

UK did not make any players available to reporters after the game.

Time passages

Tennessee shared Kentucky’s concern about the point guard playing too many minutes.

While Tyler Ulis went into the game leading the SEC in minutes in league games (36.8, on average), Tennessee’s Kevin Punter ranked fifth (34.5, on average).

UK coaches spoke about expanding its backcourt rotation in hopes of getting Ulis more rest.

Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said he deferred to Punter to decide when rest was needed. The Vols’ lack of depth in Year One of a rebuilding period means Punter must play.

“We watch his body language,” Barnes said.

If the Vols enjoy a large lead, Punter might go to the bench for a longer period of time, Barnes said. “We leave it up to him a lot, too. I’m asking him constantly: Where are you? How do you feel?

“We know he has to play a lot. He knows he’s got to play a lot.”

Barnes wants Punter to relax during off days. But the UT coach doesn’t always get what he wants.

“He’s a gym rat,” he said of Punter. “We can’t keep him out of the gym.”

This game offered little time for rest. Ulis and UT’s Armani Moore played 38 minutes each. Punter played 37.

Other players playing 30 or more minutes were Derek Willis (35), Murray (36) and Isaiah Briscoe (30).

No nerves

Dominique Hawkins had not played since suffering a high ankle sprain against Mississippi on Jan. 2. After putting Hawkins in the game at Kansas, Calipari apologized for throwing him into the deep end of the pool.

No worries, Hawkins said.

“I’ve been in big games before,” he said. “I just looked at it as another game and an opportunity to play.”

Together again

UK’s Jamal Murray and UT’s Kyle Alexander were teammates on the high school level in Canada last season. Both played for Larry Blunt.

While Murray has been productive from the start, Alexander needed more time. A 6-9 forward, he had 11 rebounds and six blocks in last weekend’s loss at TCU. Both were season highs.

UK-Kansas sets record

Kentucky’s game at Kansas set a record for TV viewership for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, ESPN said.

The UK-KU game had 2,984,000 viewers, the network said. That surpassed the previous record of 2,127,000 for last season’s Kentucky-Texas game.

Kentucky-Kansas was the third-most watched college basketball game in ESPN history, the network said.

Etc.

Stat of the game: Tennessee’s bench outscored UK’s reserves 26-4. … Former Tennessee football star and coach Johnny Majors attended the game. He is 80. … Barnes’ son, Nick, is a missionary in the Middle East. … Barnes’ so-called “coaching tree” includes several familiar names. Among his former assistant coaches are Herb Sendek (later a UK assistant, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, former Georgia Coach Dennis Felton and former Missouri Coach Frank Haith.

Find stats and line score from the Kentucky-Tennessee game.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

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