On Wednesday, the Kentucky basketball team opened its trip to Las Vegas with a 69-66 loss to Utah.
And if you ask John Calipari, it had to do with the fact that the Wildcats failed to fight for the first 30 minutes of the game, allowing the Utes to build a 17-point lead in the second half. Had they put forth effort to start the game, they wouldn’t have needed to mount a late comeback effort to have a chance in the end.
“Losing stinks and we are still trying to figure this out, but I like the fact that we had a will to win at the end,” Calipari said on his Twitter page on Thursday afternoon. “For the other 30 minutes, they were the aggressor and they were the fighters. We were not. Like I tell my team, learn from the game & then NEXT. That’s why I got up early, watched tape, went to mass, worked out, watched more tape, staff meeting in 20 minutes, & then meeting w/the team to do film & prepare for the next two days before a great practice [on Thursday] afternoon.”
At the end of the day, though, he still believes in his Wildcats.
“These guys need each other,” Calipari continued. “We need everybody with extreme energy and effort and doing what they do for this team. We have as much upside as any team. Now we’re going to have go chase it. I believe in this team. I’ll say it again: NEXT!!!”
After the game, Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans told reporters he thought his team didn’t play with discipline on either end of the floor.
And as frustrating as it was to lose, he thinks they’ve “been here” before and know what they need to do on Saturday against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
“It was a lack of discipline, I would say, on both ends of the floor,” he said. “But we’ve been here before a few times, so it’s just another day in the office. It’s just time to bounce back next game. We have a big one on Saturday, so we’ve just got to put this one past us, go back tomorrow focused and locked in.
As for the 17 point deficit the Wildcats were forced to overcome, Hagans says the veteran leaders on the team – including himself – have to teach the younger players to possess that fight and overcome adversity. For a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman, 17 points seems insurmountable, but it’s up to the veterans to show them how to battle until the final buzzer.
“Last year, we started off slow most of our games. We’ve been in this position before, we’ve been in this situation,” Hagans said. “It’s up to us, the leaders that came back [for another year at Kentucky], to talk to the younger guys and show that we’re out there with them. 17 point lead, anything can happen. We fought back, and at least we didn’t let down. It’s just time to get back to work.”
Sophomore forward EJ Montgomery says he understands how difficult of a loss it was and that the fight needs to start to begin the game, not with their backs against the wall in the second half.
“Just have to go to the drawing board, you know? We’ve got practice tomorrow,” Montgomery said. “We just need to start going from the beginning of the game, continue to fight, and bounce back. … Fighting, just continue to be the leader of this team, drag everybody with me through the fight. We’ll continue to get better every day.”
Hagans certainly agrees.
“We always have a lot of freshmen here at Kentucky, you just have to go through [the adversities] and the leaders of the team have to continue to show them how,” he said. “We all have to fight, and it starts at the beginning of the game.
Despite the disappointing defeat on Wednesday, Hagans appreciated the fan support that allowed the Wildcats to come back and tie the game late in the second half.
And with No. 5 Ohio State coming to town on Saturday afternoon, he hopes the fans come out and support them again to close out Kentucky’s trip to Las Vegas.
“That just goes to show you how much the BBN loves this team,” he said. “They helped us come back in the game. They were on their feet when we needed them, they lifted us up. I just want to say thank you to the fans. I hope they come back Saturday and do the same thing.”