At his post game press conference, John Calipari told reporters that he believed Tennessee’s inspired play would have gotten them to victory even if a healthy Nerlens Noel had been on the court.
This is sports and sometimes it happens. They deserved to beat us by 50 points today. They played harder, they played rougher and they executed better. They were stronger with the ball. We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays.
According to the head honcho, the Wildcats had their worst practice in four years yesterday, which Cal attributed to the sheer confusion of playing without Noel. Kyle Wiltjer agreed with his coach about the Cats’ deer-in-headlights look, saying “We have to give them credit. But it was a very lackluster performance on our part.” Lackluster may be a kind word for a game that saw three players foul out, Jarrod Polson have as many rebounds as Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress combined, and another stat-less performance from Ryan Harrow.
However, even if we’d had Nerlens Noel and still lost to Tennessee, you can bet that the Nerlens Noel team would have fought a helluva lot harder than the team we saw today. Like Uncle Julius said, if you didn’t come to fight, don’t play. At this point, it’s almost more important to me to see some fight out of this team than worrying about the numbers in the points columns. Seeing Willie with his hood up on the bench was the most defeated look this team has sported all season, and unfortunately, that emotion is easily contagious among teammates. Teaching our team to take pride in their play and show heart on the court is more pressing than limiting turnovers, finding ANY offensive rhythm, or showing our guards how to take control of a game. The Cats have to learn how to fight without Nerlens- mentally and physically.
Forget the improv coach, forget heart monitors. Give the team some boxing gloves and get them in the ring. Maybe our Cinderella Story is just beginning.