Basketball Season Coverage
Rivalries create tension that manifests in strange ways. In the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry, it started a fight at a dialysis clinic. In the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry, a cheerleader was forced to leave the arena.
On the road in Tempe, when ASU guard Remy Martin went to the free throw line, an official stopped the game to remove an Arizona cheerleader from the baseline.
Arizona cheerleader gets ejected for heckling ref ? pic.twitter.com/g4Q0I2tDhO
— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) February 16, 2018
What could he have possibly done to deserve an ejection?
“He was yelling, using the (megaphone) to call out people by name, which is not acceptable. And he was asked to please stop, and he chose not to,” the official said after the game.
The ejected cheerleader yelled into the megaphone, “Not today, Remy,” when Martin took the line. It turns out, it’s actually against the rules to do that. Cheerleaders are explicitly prohibited from calling out players by name.
I support this cheerleader’s move 100 percent. It might not be seen as the classiest move, but if a Kentucky cheerleader did the same thing to get a win vs. Alabama, whatever it takes. After all, it worked for Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 77-70.
By Nick Roush on ©February 16th, 2018 @ 9:00am
NBA All-Star weekend begins tonight. If the Cats aren’t participating in the events or on a tropical vacation, they’re probably hanging out in Lexington. The first two to stop by were Bam Adebayo and Willie Cauley-Stein. They will not be the last.
Cauley-Stein’s Sacramento point guard will probably not make it back to campus because tonight De’Aaron Fox is filling in for Lonzo Ball in the Rising Stars Challenge. He’ll square up against the World Team that features Jamal Murray at 9:00 on TNT.
Coach Cal Previews Alabama
Before Alabama comes to town, John Calipari will be back at the podium to talk about the game this afternoon around 2:15. There’s a lot on the line tomorrow, but I have a feeling Calipari will not deviate from the composed tone he’s kept throughout Kentucky’s four-game losing streak.
Nick Mingione’s eighth-ranked UK baseball team starts the season today in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Bat Cats will open a four-game weekend with Wofford this evening at 5:00. They’ll take on USC-Upstate in a double-header beginning at 1:00 tomorrow. If the weather holds out, they’ll finish the weekend Sunday at 11:00 a.m. vs. Evansville.
Before it begins, Coach Keith Madison and Trey Huntsman have one more KSR Baseball Podcast. Trey will have everything you need to know about the Bat Cats throughout the weekend right here on KSR.
Senior Night for Tyler Herro
The UK signee will play in his final home high school basketball game tonight. Before he concludes his high school career, he is leaving a Kentucky blue mark on the Wisconsin court.
Don’t forget to vote for Herro to participate in this year’s High School 3-Point Championship.
UK is at the Winter Olympics
Former Kentucky Track and Field All-American Simidele Adeagbo will begin her quest for gold today in Pyeongchang. The runner who picked up skeleton not long ago will make her first run at the sliding center this morning. Watch the Nigerian athlete on NBCSN between 9:30-10:30. For more on Adeabago’s story, watch her interview with Mary Jo Perino on Hey Kentucky.
Tonight in NBC’s primetime coverage you’ll see a little bit of skeleton, along with figure skating and alpine skiing. See the complete TV listings here.
Tony Delk is Marshall County Strong
The former Kentucky All-American went to Western Kentucky to support those affected by the tragic school shooting. Delk took the time to speak to the school’s FCA students and contribute to the Marshall County Strong Fund.
Courtney Love Picks Up Hardware
The Kentucky middle linebacker is in Destin, Florida tonight to cap off his ride as the Wuerfful Trophy Winner. He posed with his family and the new trophy at last night’s welcome dinner.
Chance Poore is putting in work. UK’s future kicker was letting them fly yesterday. This one looks to be from about 45 yards, but it’d be good for at least ten more yards.
slight work ? pic.twitter.com/9F6nNL1AWb
— Chance Poore (@chance_poore16) February 16, 2018
KSR is in Springfield
Drew Franklin will make his triumphant return to the Commonwealth and he will do it with Ryan Lemond, Shannon the Dude and Matt Jones in Springfield, Kentucky. You don’t want to miss it.
I don’t know what John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball program will be getting in Immanuel Quickley next season. Quickley has all the potential and the accolades of Calipari’s other star point guards before him, but if you want me to tell you how good he will be, I simply cannot do that. Your guess is as good as mine, although I expect we’ll all be very pleased when he suits up for the Cats next fall.
I can, however, tell you what kind of person John Calipari and the Kentucky basketball program will be getting next season. After traveling all the way to Maryland to meet Quickley and watch him play, I learned more about him off the court than I did on it.
So let’s throw out the basketball talk — which was originally the entire purpose of this piece when I hopped on a flight to Baltimore — and let’s get to what I saw in my brief time around Quickley at the John Carroll School.
Next year Kentucky will be getting a 6-3 point guard who never misses church on Sunday. For an 18-year-old kid already balancing the workload of his senior year of high school and a rigorous basketball schedule, Quickley is at Highway Holiness every Sunday. He has to be there, because, if he’s not, who will play the drums during the service?
Quickley’s musical talents don’t stop with the drumsticks; he also played saxophone for the school marching band before devoting all of his free time to basketball. He used to play the piano too.
When Quickley suits up for Kentucky next season, he’ll also be bringing a huge support system with him. I knew he had a big fan club when I walked into the game in front of his grandparents, Marion and Ellen Hamilton, who were excited to show off their t-shirts.
Marion Hamilton filmed every second of the game on his iPad from the top row of the bleachers. Ellen sat a few rows down from him, leading the cheers from centercourt.
But the Hamiltons weren’t the only two fans with their own custom t-shirts in the John Carroll gymnasium, and they weren’t the loudest fans, either. That honor goes to Quickley’s aunt, Demetria, who split her time between sitting in the family section and standing courtside in front of the student section, holding a cardboard cut-out. She was Quickley’s most recognizable cheerleader, and her game day shirt cannot be topped.
I spoke to Demetria after the game and she couldn’t have been nicer. The same can be said of his grandparents, who also went out of their way to talk to a complete stranger from Kentucky after the game. They may be new to Big Blue Nation, but I don’t know if you’ll find a group of people more excited about the Wildcats next fall.
Then there is Mama Quickley, Nitrease.
Nitrease Quickley is a school teacher and she too couldn’t have been nicer in our brief meeting after her son’s game. We spoke a little about how excited she is for her many trips to Lexington next season to watch Immanuel play in Rupp Arena; then she turned and introduced me to yet another group of proud friends and relatives, who are also eager to be new members of the BBN.
All of these people I speak of, I assume, are why Immanuel Quickley came across as such a nice, well-rounded, church-going 18-year-old high school senior, and not too full of himself, like some others his age with his hype and expectations — which is why I think Cal is getting another good kid to represent our favorite basketball program.
As for the actual game, which is why I was there, Quickley struggled to hit shots, but was an unselfish leader on the court. Unfortunately, his unselfishness was not always rewarded with a made basket; otherwise he would’ve had about 20 assists in the 84-59 win over the outmatched Archbishop Spalding of Severn, Md.
But it was clear he is very vocal on the floor and has a knack for finding his teammates, willingly.
The leadership and passing were refreshing to see as Coach Cal struggles to get his current team to communicate and share the ball back in Lexington, although I wish Quickley had shot the ball a little better this particular night. After all, he considers shooting the best part of his game. He told me, “My biggest strength right now is my shooting. It came a long way. I wasn’t always a shooter. I got in the lane a lot, but I think to round out my full game, shooting has been a big part of it.”
He also told me he began to see the changes in his game once he suited up for the local AAU program, Team BBC, and committed himself to improving as he moved into a more prominent role on his high school team.
“I started separating myself around my sophomore year, especially playing with Team BBC,” he said. “I got in the gym a lot that year and started working on my game. Big colleges starting coming after me soon after that.”
Kentucky was on him early, and Calipari made him the first point guard in the 2018 class to have a scholarship offer from UK, when he offered him in October of his junior year. Once he got to know Calipari and the UK staff, it didn’t take a lot of convincing for Cal to land the signature.
“He really didn’t have to convince me,” said Quickley. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, and what I want to do is be a pro. He told me: if you stay on the right track and work hard and stay disciplined, it’s not going to be easy, but keeping working hard and you can get there.”
Quickley prides himself on his hard work; it was the first thing out of his mouth when I asked him to describe his game. His full evaluation of his game was, “I’m somebody who is going to work hard from Day 1, a leader, somebody that can get everybody involved, but also scoring when I need to and play defense. Just play hard every possession.”
If he brings all of that to Kentucky next fall, Cal will have another good point guard on the roster.
And there will be a lot of good people coming with him… in screen-printed t-shirts, with iPads in hand.
John Calipari’s “everybody’s Super Bowl” comment has gotten a lot of run during his time at Kentucky. He says it so often, it has become a joke amongst the media and fan base. We have all mocked it together for years.
But it’s so true.
Kentucky is everybody’s Super Bowl, and last night was another prime example.
Unless you’ve been to some of these opposing atmospheres, it’s really hard to comprehend what the Cats face every time they’re on the road. It’s a completely different challenge than what any other team around the league sees when they play against the same team in the same building. Auburn had fans lined up outside the building for hours before last night’s game. Do those same fans even go when any other team is in town? Of course not — and even if they did, they don’t bring it like they do when UK is on the opposing bench.
Auburn Arena was insane last night, so much that I think I went deaf for a couple of minutes in the second half and almost passed out while trying to chew my chicken sandwich. It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen at a college basketball game, and I’ve been to more places for more games than I care to remember. For a building that only holds a little over 9,000 people, it got as loud (or louder) than anything I’ve heard anywhere else. It was on fire.
But only because Kentucky was in town.
Calipari said afterward, “Everybody gives us their best shot. There’s no one that’s gonna not play against Kentucky.”
He often sounds like a broken record, but last night reminded me that it’s so true. There is no catching a team off guard when you’re Kentucky. You’re getting everyone’s best, which can’t be said for the rest of the teams around the SEC. It’s always a t-shirt night. The fans are louder, way louder. The players have waited all season for this one game and they’re hungry to get out there and play well. All the celebrities are out. It’s a huge deal for the opponent, and Kentucky has to play through it, each and every time they leave Rupp Arena.
I’m not making excuses for last night’s loss or any other disappointing road losses in the past, but there really is something to being “everybody’s Super Bowl.” Auburn Arena, which averages under 7,000 fans per game, felt like the wildest scene in all of college basketball last night, like some impossible place for any team to go in and win.
But only because Kentucky was in town.
As much as we mock it, “everybody’s Super Bowl” is right and it only makes it harder on the Cats.
At least it doesn’t exist in the SEC or NCAA tournaments.
By Aaron Torres on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
So, you probably don’t need me to tell you that the Kentucky Wildcats are struggling right now. As everyone reading this article knows, Kentucky is currently in the midst of the longest losing streak of the John Calipari era (four games, following Wednesday’s loss at Auburn). At 6-7 in SEC play, this is also the first time since 1989 that Kentucky has been below .500 in SEC play this late in the year (per an article written by Nick Roush today).
So yeah, things are bad, and like what always happens when things go bad, everyone wants to know what’s wrong. For the Wildcats, their problems this season have been very well-documented. They are the youngest team in college basketball. They lack scoring punch. They don’t have that one star that could put the team on his back and carry them. The list goes on and on.
But while those are all legitimate concerns for Kentucky’s struggle, there is an additional one that nobody is talking about: The SEC. This league is better than it’s ever been (at least since I started watching college basketball in the mid-1990’s). And as much as Kentucky’s internal issues make things worse, their biggest problem isn’t about them, but what’s around them. Right now, the Wildcats could definitely use a break in their schedule or an overmatched opponent to completely run over. Instead, they run into one future NCAA Tournament team after another. And when you add that issue on top of everything else (youth, lack of star power etc.) it leads us to the Wildcats’ struggles we’ve seen in recent weeks.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 6:28pm
Yesterday, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach cited a source that said as many as 36 Division I programs could face NCAA violations for what’s come to light in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. Now, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel is upping that number to 50, citing multiple sources that say Hall of Fame coaches, the sport’s top programs, and lottery picks are all at risk.
Multiple sources who’ve been briefed on the case and are familiar with the material obtained by feds told Yahoo Sports that the impact on the sport will be substantial and relentless. Sitting under protective order right now are the fruits of 330 days of monitoring activity by the feds, which one assistant US Attorney noted Thursday was “a voluminous amount of material.” That includes wiretaps from 4,000 intercepted calls and thousands of documents and bank records obtained from raids and confiscated computers, including those from notorious NBA agent Andy Miller.
“This goes a lot deeper in college basketball than four corrupt assistant coaches,” said a source who has been briefed on the details of the case. “When this all comes out, Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show this weekend should worry about their appearance being vacated.”
Well, Kentucky wasn’t one of the top 16 teams shown on this weekend’s preview nor do we have any likely lottery picks right now, so we’re cool, right?
For more, check out the story below.
Kentucky’s sharp-shooting 2018 signee is lighting it up from behind the three-point line, but he needs the Big Blue Nation’s help to do it on a grand stage.
Herro is one of 16 finalists to participate in the American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships. To make sure Herro is one of the final three to participate in the 3-Point Shooting Contest, he needs votes from the Big Blue Nation. It’s pretty simple.
1. Visit HighSchoolSlam.com
2. Click “Boy’s 3-Point” category at the top of the page.
3. Select Herro in the bottom right bracket.
4. Vote once a day.
If Herro gets enough votes, he’ll put his shooting skills to the test on CBS, Sunday April 1 from 3:30-5:00. Do you thing, BBN.
By Nick Roush on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 3:30pm
Bam is in the building!
The former Wildcat power forward has turned into a star for the Miami Heat. What’s the first thing Adebayo did to celebrate the All-Star break? Return to Lexington to see his old stomping grounds. Wenyen Gabriel certainly looks happy to see his old teammate.
Adebayo entered the All-Star break on a heater (no pun intended). In the month of February he had three double-doubles in seven games and averaged 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blockers per game.
Man, this team could sure use a big Bam in the paint…
UPDATE: Willie Cauley-Stein is in town too!
By Nick Roush on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 2:41pm
Last night was the perfect night for ESPN’s Jeff Goodman to attend a Kentucky game. In the middle of the longest losing streak of the Calipari era, the Cats entered Auburn as underdogs against the SEC’s top team. The Kentucky-bashing column could write itself.
It started with a heavy-handed “Calipari doesn’t have a Nerlens Noel excuse this time” and ended without providing much more substance that you already don’t know. There’s quotes, schedule analysis and comparisons to past teams. There are two passages that provide some insight you probably haven’t heard before:
“But this Kentucky team is missing something. No, it’s missing more than just one thing. There’s a litany of reasons why the Wildcats have struggled. The Dec. 29 shellacking of rival Louisville seems like an eternity ago, and this team no longer brings an intimidation factor that has been associated with those who have “KENTUCKY” on their jerseys….”
“…There’s no chip with these guys in Lexington. Maybe they’re too nice, too soft or too focused on making a brief pit stop before jumping to the next level. Whatever the case, Calipari hasn’t been able to get this group to play with the fire and intensity that has been his trademark over the years.”
It’s critical, but a fair analysis. All of those points are valid and probably true. It just hurts to hear it coming from Jeff Goodman’s mouth.
By Nick Roush on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 12:00pm
Joe Lunardi has dropped Kentucky a seed line in his latest bracket protection.
A loss on the road to the SEC’s top team that could potentially be a two-seed shouldn’t hurt Kentucky’s stock too much. Losing four straight games might have more to do with the dip to a nine-seed in today’s bracket.
When Kentucky moved down, Louisville moved up to an eight. Lunardi told Tom Leach earlier this week UK needs to win three more regular season games to feel comfortable heading into the postseason. See his entire bracket here.
If you’re tired of hearing just from Lunardi, I have a new solution that could tickle your fancy. It’s called the Bracket Matrix. Numbers nerds at The Bracket Project combine every possible bracket projection (more than 100) to paint the clearest picture of where each team currently stands. As of 8:45 last night, Kentucky’s average seed is 6.38. Not too shabby.
By Nick Roush on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 9:11am
The news Bunny broke on Kentucky Sports Radio is now official. The Louisville Basketball Investment and Support Group announced this morning that Dan Issel has been named president of the organization that will try to lure an NBA team to Louisville.
“There is speculation that the NBA could grant an expansion franchise to the West Coast, which would open the door for a franchise to be located in the eastern U.S.,” Issel said in a press release. “This development – plus the impressive list of local investors – is the impetus for the formation of the NBA 2 Louisville initiative. And, it is the reason why I am so excited to be involved in trying to bring professional basketball back to the Commonwealth.”
The local investors Issel alluded to are more than 20 people who have put together over $750,000. It will take much more than that to bring an expansion franchise to Louisville, but with Issel leading the way and without Jurich and Pitino in the picture, it’s a nice start.
Read more at LEX-18.
The Kentucky basketball team is in a funk. It’s no regular funk. It’s the kind of funk Kentucky fans have not experienced since Billy Gillispie’s final team limped through the final four games of the 2009 regular season. Unfortunately, this particular funk isn’t exclusively reserved for the fans.
Kentucky went toe-to-toe with the SEC’s top team for 32 minutes. They fought through a first half offensive slump to keep the game within reach. In the second half they attacked Auburn inside, using screeners on the block to create one open lock after another. The Cats controlled their own destiny, until they got in their own way.
The funk that consumed the fans overtook the players. Hamidou Diallo’s three changed the game. It should have resulted in a seven-point lead; instead it turned into three consecutive turnovers.
“Poor Hami,” John Calipari said. “He’s making strides and getting better. He needed that three to drop. And that thing went [rim rattling sound]. We would have been up seven. It just didn’t go. I don’t know. I felt bad for him. I told him, just keep working man, but he just looked rattled out there.”
Diallo wasn’t the only one who couldn’t shake off the slump. Kevin Knox had 19 points with 13 minutes to play. He only attempted one more field goal, a prayer with 25 seconds to play. The rest of the team followed Knox’s lead and failed to attack down the stretch, finishing the final 5:01 without a field goal. You can’t see it in the box score, but you could see it in their body language. The funk was too much to overcome.
Where does Kentucky go from here? “I really believe if we win a game we’ll get going.” Calipari is probably right. This team is so close to getting over the hump, but there’s something they have to shake off to be able to turn around this season.
- Kentucky shot 46 percent and lost. Huh?
- Auburn missed their first 9 threes, yet still finished 30 percent behind the line.
- Kentucky had 14 turnovers. In the four-game losing streak they average 13.3 a game.
- Since the UofL game, UK’s assist-to-turnover ratio has only been positive twice (UGA, A&M).
- Auburn scored 11 more points at the free throw line.
- UK only led for 6 minutes, but it felt like so much loner.
What the Loss Means
Kentucky is now 6-7 in SEC play. According to Corey Price, March 4th, 1989 was the last time Kentucky had a losing record in SEC play this late into the season. That year the finished the season 8-10 in SEC play. The worst SEC record UK has ever had and still made the NCAA Tournament was 10-8 in 1987.
If the SEC Tournament started today, Kentucky would be the 8-seed and play Texas A&M on Thursday; the winner would advance to play Auburn. Cal’s Cats have never played on Thursday at the SEC Tournament.
Winter Olympics Update
If you were like me and couldn’t sleep, at least you were awarded with a gold medal performance by USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin in the giant slalom. She absolutely crushed it, and has a change for another goal tonight in the slalom.
It was great, but it wasn’t the best part of NBC’s primetime alpine skiing coverage. If you thought Tara Lapinski and Johnny Weir were ruthless, Bode Miller blamed this woman’s skiing ineptitude on her husband.
Please tell me someone else caught Bode Miller with the greatest color commentary of any Olympiad ever: pic.twitter.com/l3MtYxUilV
— Mike Honcho (@doubleshift8) February 15, 2018
College Basketball on TV
|7:00||#6 Purdue at Wisconsin||ESPN|
|7:00||Temple at #19 Wichita State||ESPN2|
|7:00||#5 Cincinnati at Houston||CBSSN|
|7:00||Tulsa at Uconn||ESPNU|
|8:00||#8 Ohio State at Penn State||BTN|
|9:00||#17 Arizona at #25 Arizona State||ESPN|
|9:00||Oregon at USC||ESPN2|
By Drew Franklin on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 8:00am
John Calipari had a lot of interesting things to say following his team’s loss at Auburn, its fourth loss in as many games.
If you were too frustrated or too tired to stick around for his postgame comments, here are some of the big quotes you missed.
“My concern is that I have a bunch of young kids that at times don’t listen, they don’t trust.”
As he has said in the past, and as we can all see through our televisions, the Kentucky players have a listening problem. Of all the young teams Calipari has had, this one seems to be having the toughest time accepting his coaching.
“I told them that I failed them.”
“I failed them because I haven’t built enough trust where when I talk to them, they are going to do what this man says,” he explained. “I don’t know if it’s outside stuff, but I told them I failed them. I told them they also failed each other because they don’t play for each other.”
Calipari said he’ll be fine, but he is worried he has failed the players and there are some ways the players have failed each other.
“All that comes back to trust.”
“It’s probably good for the soul.”
Calipari wonders if the losing skid is good for the soul, although, he wishes it was someone else’s soul.
“Good news is I’ve done this for 30 years,” he said. “Haven’t had one of these for a while. It’s probably good for the soul. I wish it was good for someone else’s soul, not mine.”
While fan frustation is at an all-time high with Hamidou Diallo’s lackluster play, Calipari feels bad for his freshman guard, who was a highly regarded NBA prospect not long ago.
“I feel for them. Poor Hami. He’s making strides and getting better. He needed that three to drop. And that thing went (all around the rim). We would have been up seven and it just didn’t go. I feel bad for him. I told him, ‘Just keep working, man.’ But he looked rattled out there.”
“We made strides today.”
Kentucky had a late lead on the road against the first-place team in the SEC, but couldn’t finish in the final stretch. Despite the loss, Cal still said, “They did good. We made strides today.”
“I kind liked that smaller team.”
We may see more of Kentucky’s smaller lineup with Wenyen Gabriel, PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt playing inside over Nick Richards or Sacha Killeya-Jones.
Cal said, “I kinda liked that smaller team. And they’re not small — 6-9, 6-9, 6-9, 6-9, maybe. I kind of liked that team in there.”
He also knows it won’t work all of the time, but it was good against a smaller team like Auburn.
“I really believe if we win a game we’ll get going.”
Kentucky isn’t worried about NCAA tournament seeding or qualifying; they’re only worried about winning a game again.
“Let’s just try to win the next game,” Cal said, when asked if he’s worried about the postseason. “Just win a game. I really believe if we win a game we’ll get going.”
PJ Washington said, “Right now our main focus is just on our next opponent, just trying to get back on the winning column. I feel like if we work hard at practice every day we’ll be all right.”
See Calipari’s entire press conference:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 12:40am
With eight minutes to go, Kentucky was in control of this game. Ahead by four, Hamidou Diallo stepped up and shot a three, which would have pushed the lead to seven. Unfortunately, it rattled out. From there, Auburn cut the lead to two, and after a Diallo turnover a minute later, took the lead for good, finishing the game on a 16-7 run to win 76-66, pushing Kentucky to 17-9, 6-7 in SEC play.
It’s not fair to say Diallo was the reason Kentucky lost tonight, but his missteps created a domino effect of dumb mistakes. For the first time in a long time, Kentucky was playing like an actual basketball team, exploiting Auburn’s lack of size inside and creating opportunities with the best passing we’ve seen in weeks. Sadly, when things started to go wrong, they collapsed. Forced drives, stupid passes, and lackluster effort doomed the Cats in the final seven minutes, leading to the first four-game losing streak since the Billy Gillispie era.
There’s no shame in losing to the tenth ranked team in the country on their home court; however, letting that win fall through your fingers when it could have changed your season is beyond depressing — it’s demoralizing. Auburn was far from perfect tonight, shooting only 36.7% from the field thanks in part to Kentucky’s inspired defensive effort. The Cats stuck to the game plan and used their size in the middle, outscoring the Tigers in the paint 36-20 and winning the rebounding battle. Kentucky had Auburn on the ropes, but at the first sign of trouble, they panicked. The moment was just too big.
“Poor Hami,” Calipari said afterwards. “He’s making strides and getting better. He needed that three to drop. And that thing went [rim rattling sound]. We would have been up seven. It just didn’t go. I don’t know. I felt bad for him. I told him, just keep working man, but he just looked rattled out there and I just said, we’ve gotta win the game. You’ve got to worry about egos later when you’re just trying to win a game.”
Again, it’s not just Hami. What happened to Kevin Knox? Knox had 12 points in the first half but disappeared in the second, not attempting a field goal in the final 13 minutes. If you forgot Knox was on the court, you’re not alone; at times, he looked completely checked out, a troubling sign in the final stretch of the regular season. With Knox disengaged, Kentucky’s offense stalled, the Cats ending the game on another five minute stretch without a field goal.
So, where do we go from here? In the final seconds of the game, Auburn’s student section chanted “NIT,” a questionable jeer from a fanbase whose team hasn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 2003, but a painful one all the same. Tonight’s loss doesn’t directly put Kentucky at risk of not making the tournament, but it does pave a grim path. Saturday, a feisty Alabama team will come to Rupp Arena led by freshman phenom Collin Sexton. From there, the Cats will travel to Arkansas before hosting a Missouri team that’s already beaten them. They’ll get a brief reprieve vs. Ole Miss before ending the season on Senior Day in Gainesville. Out of those five games, the only one I feel remotely good about is Ole Miss. That’s just where we are right now.
Right now, Kentucky is wounded prey just waiting for teams to pounce. To avoid total collapse, they must beat Alabama on Saturday. Unfortunately, they’ll have to get out of their own way to do it.
Kentucky, the No. 1 team in the preseason SEC poll, is in the bottom half of the current standings; while Auburn, picked ninth, and Tennessee, picked 13th, lead the league as the season winds down.
Big Blue Nation, I’m afraid your SEC tournament is going to get started a little earlier than you had planned.