It has been a week that John Calipari would love to forget, to say the least. On Tuesday, he lost his star player for the season with a torn ACL, the first time he’s ever had a player suffer a season-ending injury in his 22 years as a head coach. And today, his Kentucky Wildcats suffered a 30-point loss to Tennessee, the third worst loss of his career. Not even an ice cold double serving of Orange Leaf’s cake batter and chocolate brownie swirl will ease the headache and heartbreak of these last five days. The guy is really being put to the test.
The most frustrating part of the loss is that the outcome of the game wouldn’t have been much different had Nerlens Noel been healthy and active. Kentucky still would’ve lost the game, just not by a 30 pack. The effort was poor, the execution was poor, and Tennessee played one of its better games this year. Everything that could’ve gone wrong for UK went wrong and Tennessee did almost everything right. Hats off to them for a well-played game.
Like you, I’m a little disgusted by what we just witnessed, so let’s run through some postgame chatter and then put our Eric Bledsoe jerseys on for tonight’s NBA Dunk Contest…
Instead of dissecting each individual player’s performance, let’s break it up into two groups: ‘Julius Mays and Jarrod Polson’ and ‘Everyone Else.’ Uncle Julius and the heartthrob from Wilmore were the only two players who had any fight in them against Tennessee today. Unfortunately, those are two guys who can’t take over a game, even when they’re playing their best. It takes big games from UK’s impact players to win on the road in the SEC, and, well, UK’s impact players were nowhere to be found. If the guys in that ‘Everyone Else’ group had shown half the effort we saw from Julius Mays and Jarrod Polson, we’re not sitting here sulking after watching a 30-point loss to the Volunteers.
It was a career day for Polson, despite the outcome of the game. He made his first career start for the Wildcats in a decision that was part reward for his hustle and part message to Ryan Harrow. He scored a career-high 11 points in the loss, topping his 10-point game against Maryland in the season opener, and he hit a career-high four free throws on a career-high four free throw attempts. He also sank a three-pointer for the third consecutive game. It was a fearless effort on both ends of the court and one his teammates should be forced to watch over and over again in Sunday’s film session.
After the game, Julius Mays spoke like a true leader in his interview with Mike Pratt during the IMG postgame show. Mays, while speaking about his teammates, said, “If you are going to use Nerlens as an excuse not to fight, then don’t come out and play with us.” He said he is going to speak up and let everyone know they need to hold themselves accountable. “And if they don’t want to be a part of it, then don’t,” he added. Mays called it the softest he’s ever seen the team play. “Nobody had it in them.”
This quote from Calipari says it all: “We’ve got a couple guys that are basically not real coachable.”
I think we have a pretty good idea of who that was directed to. Ryan Harrow is my first, second, and third guess. That kid has completely disappeared over the last month and he didn’t show any signs of earning his starting spot back.
While no one expected a 30-point loss, Calipari isn’t completely shocked by his team’s poor performance. You can even say he saw it coming after hearing him call yesterday’s practice the worst one he’s seen in four years at Kentucky. “They were awful,” he said of Friday’s practice.
We, the fans, have been patient with this team for months now, still holding out hope they’ll get it going, but the timing of yesterday’s “awful” practice is inexcusable. This is the point in the season, especially right after the Nerlens news, when everyone should be 100% focused and driven to succeed. Everyone should be giving maximum effort and absorbing everything Calipari tells them in practice, film and at the Rafferty’s dinner table. So to hear him say practice was awful on the day before a pivotal game suggests things aren’t going to change. But with that said, Calipari still isn’t giving up on his guys and he believes the fight is still buried down in them somewhere.
Alex and Archie, it’s now or never, boys. You two have all the potential in the world. Show it to us.
We’re not fake. Just frustrated. Love you.
Also, it’s never a good idea to tweet directly to a player. It never ends well for either party.
I challenge anyone out there, ANYONE, to name a worse official in America than Doug Shows. His own colleagues in the SEC call him Doug Shows-off for his “Me! Me! Me!” attitude when officiating games. Referees aren’t supposed to get attention, yet Shows continuously demands the spotlight in games. The man was trending nationally on Twitter during the first half! That’s not what officials are sent out there to do. Refs are supposed to quietly and anonymously call a fair game. Their names should rarely come up.
And I’m not one to whine about officiating, either. Shows’ blatantly obvious screwup in the first half had zero impact on the game’s final score. But it seems like he’s always going after John Calipari and Kentucky when he’s assigned to UK games. He missed the jump ball possession call; he knew he missed the call; and he threw John Robic out for arguing the call. Cal said after the game that what Robic said to the crew did not warrant an ejection.
Yes, the loss was atrocious, but the season is not over for Kentucky. As Matt learned at Bracket Camp last week, the margin of victory does not matter when the field of 68 is selected. A 30-point loss on the road at Tennessee is no different than a two-point loss on the road at Tennessee, when it comes to making the big dance. A win next Saturday against Missouri will do wonders for UK’s tournament hopes, so long as they get the win in Wednesday night’s home game against Vanderbilt. There’s still a lot of basketball left, folks.
At least Kentucky Men’s Swim & Dive is having fun…