Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 61-59 loss to Tennessee on Tuesday night:
1. Playing the blame game.
John Calipari said it was his fault. The Kentucky coach opened his postgame press conference saying he hope he had won more games than he lost for his team, but that he lost this one. Cal said he should have called timeout at the end when UK, down 59-58, had the ball with 24 seconds left in the game.
Instead, the Cats committed their second consecutive turnover which led to UT’s Admiral Schofield dunking at the other end with four seconds left to practically put the victory away.
“This one’s on me,” Calipari said.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said it was his fault. Never mind that the freshman guard scored 12 points in the final 10 minutes. He was the one who committed those two crucial turnovers, the first when he lost the ball with UK up 58-56. The Vols’ Lamonte Turner nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the visitors in front 59-58 with 25 seconds left. Then Gilgeous-Alexander got surrounded near the lane and turned the ball over trying to pass out of a trap.
“The second one I think I got too deep,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “The first one was a great play by the defender.”
Quade Green said it was his fault. Never mind that the freshman guard scored 15 points off the bench, including 10 in the first half. Green said he should have been closer to Turner when the Tennessee guard drilled the three-pointer which ultimately proved to be the game-winner.
“It was my fault,” Green said.
Calipari is the head coach. He makes the big bucks. It’s his responsibility. He doesn’t like to call timeouts in late-game situations. He’d rather let the game play out because often talent wins out and he usually has the most talent. This year’s team is different. Instead of believing his freshmen could come through in the end, he hoped they could.
“You can’t hope, not with this team,” he said.
2. Tennessee is the real deal.
This was the Vols’ first win in Rupp Arena since 2006, its first sweep of Kentucky since the 1998-99 season when Jerry Green’s Volunteers beat Tubby Smith and Company 47-46 in Lexington and 68-61 in Knoxville.
Better still for the Vols, this was their ninth win in their last 10 games. First of all, Rick Barnes is a good coach. He proved that at Clemson and then Texas. He has a Tennessee team that plays together, passes the ball and on a night when it didn’t hit shots — just five of 21 from three-point land — showed toughness and resiliency to pull out the win on the road.
The Vols are young, too, but they are a young team with some experience. Leading scorer Grant Williams is a sophomore. Lamonte Turner, who hit the big three, is a redshirt sophomore. Admiral Schofield, who had 12 points and grabbed six rebounds, is a junior. Jordan Bowden, 13 points and eight boards, is a sophomore.
“We feel like we have options,” Barnes said.
Tennessee entered the game with 64.9 percent of its baskets coming off assists. That number dropped slightly after UT assisted on just 10 of its 22 field goals. Still, that was better than Kentucky’s ratio. The Cats were credited with just seven assists on their 19 made baskets. All but one of the assists belonged to Gilgeous-Alexander. It was the sixth time in the last nine games UK failed to reach double figures in assists as a team. The Cats had 15 turnovers, the eighth time in 11 SEC games that Kentucky has had more turnovers than assists.
“John’s team is just really young,” said Barnes after the game.
Depending on who goes and who stays, perhaps the 2018-19 Kentucky team could look a lot like the 2017-18 Tennessee team.
3. This loss leaves Kentucky in a tough spot
It’s all about the precious present, of course, and the Cats are now 17-7 overall, 6-5 in the SEC and facing a challenging home stretch.
They travel to College Station on Saturday to face a Texas A&M team that lost to UK by one in Rupp and have won its last two games convincingly — 80-66 over Arkansas and 83-60 over South Carolina. Billy Kennedy’s club travels to Auburn on Wednesday night.
The Cats do the same next Wednesday. Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are an amazing 21-2 overall and 9-1 in the SEC. Since losing at Alabama 76-71 on Jan. 17, Auburn has won five straight, four of those by 12 or more points.
So it is conceivable that by the time Caliapri’s team returns to Rupp Arena on Feb. 17 to face Alabama, Kentucky could be 6-7 in the league.
Consider this, in his nine years at Kentucky, only once at any point has a Calipari team had a losing record in SEC play. That was in 2010-11 when UK dropped the conference opener 77-70 at Georgia.
That 2010-11 team was also 6-5 after 11 league games, then won five of its last six regular-season games, the SEC Tournament and advanced all the way to the Final Four before losing to Connecticut in the national semifinals.
There are a couple of differences between then and now. That team was older and better than this team. And the SEC was not as tough then as it is now.
Kentucky men’s basketball 2017-18
vsMonmouth (New York)
vsUCLA (New Orleans)