Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Kentucky basketball’s loss at Auburn

John Calipari: We’re just trying to win a game

Kentucky coach John Calipari on his team’s four-game losing streak.
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Kentucky coach John Calipari on his team’s four-game losing streak.

Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 76-66 loss at Auburn:

1. These Cats just can’t hold it together for 40 minutes

Afterward, UK coach John Calipari actually opened his post-game press conference by saying, “They did good. . . . We made strides.” And despite the fourth straight loss and now a 6-7 record in the SEC, there was a point to what he was saying. In a hostile environment — “Not sure there was one better in college basketball,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl — Kentucky not just hung with the SEC leader, the Cats led 59-55 with 7:04 remaining.

Kentucky was following the recipe. It was winning the glass. Jarred Vanderbilt grabbed nine rebounds in 13 minutes. It was dominating inside, up 38-12 on points on the paint. Its length was bothering Auburn’s three-point shooting. The Tigers would end up eight-of-27 from three for the game for 29.6 percent, well below their 40.6 percentage in conference games.

Then, as so often it has happened this season for Kentucky, it all fell apart. Auburn’s Bryce Brown hit a three. UK’s Hamidou Dillao made a turnover. Brown scored off the left baseline. Kentucky’s PJ Washington tried to force up a shot that became a turnover. Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore threw down a one-hand jam off a lob pass. Just like that, a four-point UK lead became a seven-point deficit.

By the time it played its way out, this was one of those four-to-five minutes stretches that have sunk the Cats all season. Kentucky did not score a field goal over the final five minutes of the game. “The key to the game was we got stops down the stretch,” said Pearl.

The key for Kentucky: After playing so well for 35 minutes, the young Cats couldn’t keep it up for a full 40.

2. Kevin Knox asserts himself, then disappears

The freshman forward, UK’s leading scorer, scored 12 points in the first half as the Cats trailed 39-33 at the intermission. He scored the Cats’ first four points of the second half, giving him 16 on the night after nailing a three-pointer from the right wing to slice the Auburn lead to 41-37. He made an old-fashioned three-point play at the 13:49 mark to pull the Cats within 48-47. Next possession, Wenyen Gabriel scored to give Kentucky the lead 49-48.

Then Knox vanished. He didn’t score again the rest of the game. Not a point. After going five-of-eight in the first half, the Tampa native was two-of-five in the second. He ended up with 19 points on seven-of-13 shooting, including three-of-seven from three-point range. He was two-of-three from the foul line. Thing was, it could have been a lot more.

And this Kentucky team needs more. It’s just not a consistent offensive team. It ended up shooting 46.3 percent to Auburn’s 36.7 percent, but the Cats struggled again from three-point land, going three-of-14. Aside from Knox, the rest of the team was zero-for-seven from beyond the arc.

Asked about Kentucky after the game, Pearl said, “Their biggest weaknesses is they don’t shoot the three well. And they’re limited in their playmakers and the number of guys who can make plays for others.”

He’s right. UK ended up averaging just 0.936 points per possession, the sixth time in 13 league games it has failed to reach the 1.0 mark. The Cats also committed 14 turnovers to just nine assists, the 12th time time in 13 conference games it failed to have more assists than turnovers.

3. And then the Auburn students chanted, “NIT! NIT! NIT!”

Talk about adding insult to injury. Then again, this was Kentucky’s fourth straight loss, after all. That had not happened since the final four regular season games of the two-year Billy Gillispie misadventure back in 2008-09, the year before Calipari arrived on the scene. Calipari had not experienced a four-game losing streak since his 2004-05 season at Memphis.

Kentucky is also now 17-9 overall and 6-7 in the SEC with five tough games to go — Alabama at home; Arkansas on the road; Missouri and Ole Miss at home; Florida on the road. UK has not finished with a losing regular-season record in the SEC since the 1988-89 season. That was a year plagued by an NCAA investigation. It also turned out to be Eddie Sutton’s last year as the Kentucky coach.

This isn’t that bad, but it could get worse. Kentucky is down and the league as a whole is up. UK is certainly capable of winning its final games — “I really believe if we win one we’ll get it going,” Calipari said — but the Cats are certainly capable of losing all five.

Pearl said he thinks Kentucky is an NCAA Tournament team. He even called the Cats “a dangerous team.” Unless this young collection finds a way to turn it around, and soon, its in clear danger of missing the Big Dance.

Kentucky coach John Calipari after his team’s loss at Auburn.

Kentucky coach John Calipari was actually upbeat after his team suffered its fourth straight loss, 76-66 at Auburn.

Kentucky forward PJ Washington had 11 points in UK’s 76-66 loss at Auburn.

Kentucky led Auburn by four points inside the final seven minutes, but Auburn surged and stopped the Cats from scoring in the final five minutes.

Kentucky men’s basketball 2017-18

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/10/17

Utah Valley

73

63

W

1-0

11/12/17

Vermont

73

69

W

2-0

11/14/17

vsKansas (chicago)

61

65

L

2-1

11/17/17

East Tennessee

78

61

W

3-1

11/20/17

Troy

70

62

W

4-1

11/22/17

Fort Wayne

86

67

W

5-1

11/26/17

UIC

107

73

W

6-1

12/2/17

Harvard

79

70

W

7-1

12/9/17

vsMonmouth (New York)

93

76

W

8-1

12/16/17

Virginia Tech

93

86

W

9-1

12/23/17

vsUCLA (New Orleans)

75

83

L

9-2

12/29/17

Louisville

90

61

W

10-2

12/31/17

Georgia

66

61

W

11-2

1-0

1/3/18

@LSU

74

71

W

12-2

2-0

1/6/18

@Tennessee

65

76

L

12-3

2-1

1/9/18

Texas A&M

74

73

W

13-3

3-1

1/13/18

@Vanderbilt

74

67

W

14-3

4-1

1/16/18

@South Carolina

68

76

L

14-4

4-2

1/20/18

Florida

64

66

L

14-5

4-3

1/23/18

Mississippi St

78

65

W

15-5

5-3

1/27/18

@West Virginia

83

76

W

16-5

1/30/18

Vanderbilt

83

81

W*

17-5

6-3

2/3/18

@Missouri

60

69

L

17-6

6-4

2/6/18

Tennessee

59

61

L

17-7

6-5

2/10/18

@Texas A&M

74

85

L

17-8

6-6

2/14/18

@Auburn

66

76

L

17-9

6-7

2/17/18

Alabama

2/20/18

@Arkansas

2/24/18

Missouri

2/28/18

Ole Miss

3/3/18

@Florida

SEC men’s basketball standings

Team

SEC

Overall

Auburn

11-2

23-3

Tennessee

9-4

19-6

Missouri

8-5

18-8

Alabama

8-5

17-9

Florida

8-5

17-9

Arkansas

7-6

18-8

Miss State

6-7

18-8

Kentucky

6-7

17-9

Texas A&M

6-7

17-9

Georgia

5-8

14-11

LSU

5-8

14-11

South Carolina

4-9

13-13

Ole Miss

4-9

11-15

Vanderbilt

4-9

10-16

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