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It’s hilarious to even have to defend Calipari – but I’m still doing it



Isn’t it funny?

I mean, isn’t it?

First, it’s funny that I even saw Tim Sullivan’s column from this weekend, because most of the time I avoid the daily newspaper – especially the one from Louisville.

But it’s also funny how easily I let a few of his declarations get my goat. Some were very complimentary of certain aspects of UK Athletics. However, some were not, and I know there was one that will especially stick in Cats fans’ craws:

“A Rick Pitino team would have been much less likely to commit three straight shot-clock violations in the Final Four.”

Get it? It’s a little jab for us as Kentucky fans. And a timely one, too. How long ago was this game? Only three months ago, right? Good one, Tim. Quick.

My response: yes. He’s probably right. Rarely would you expect any Final Four team to do what UK did. It just doesn’t happen. But I would argue you could also say this: “Any other John Calipari team would have been much less likely to commit three straight shot-clock violations in the Final Four.”

That statement is also true. Because just about any team wouldn’t have performed the way the Wildcats did in the latter moments against Wisconsin. But you know what? It happened.

Of course, the implication here is deeper – that somehow those shot clock violations were Calipari’s fault.

And that a Pitino-led team would not have done that.

Because Pitino is a much better coach.

Get it?

Am I inferring too much? I don’t think so. It goes along with the narrative that the media, and Louisville fans, try to push all the time.

I know it because I’ve heard it all before. Just look at who was left off the list of the 25 most influential people in college basketball.

In fact, I heard it all when Pitino was coaching at UK.

I find it very funny the local media now chooses Pitino as the smartest basketball coach in the country, because many of those same journalists and fans criticized Pitino at UK for, among other things:

– not guarding the Grant Hill inbounds pass in the regional final against Duke

– not convincing his loaded and talented 1995 squad to quit shooting threes against Dean Smith’s Carolina Heels in the regional finals.

– not playing a healthy Derek Anderson against a much quicker Arizona squad in the 1997 championship game.

– and if we’re keeping track at Louisville, how about Rick leading the Cards to the No. 1 overall seed in 2009 only to lose to Michigan State – again in the regional finals.

Truth being, I never felt comfortable as a UK fan when Pitino was coaching the Cats in a close game. Call it whatever you want – fatigue from pressing or just inexperience – but I remember fans and media criticizing Rick for running a great system, but not necessarily being a great coach – especially when it came to crunch time.

A friend of mine, author Joe Cox, actually ran the numbers on this a few days ago. He defined close games as those that went to overtime or those decided by six points or less – basically two possessions.

“Now admittedly, there’ll be fluke games where a team hits two threes in garbage time and a 12 point game becomes a ‘close’ game… or games that are actually close games and a late free throw run makes it end at a 7 point margin and thus not ‘close,'” Cox said. “But still, on the whole, I figured it would work.”

The numbers don’t lie.

Cal is 36-22 at UK in such games, a 62 percent winning percentage. Pitino won just 30 percent of those games at UK, Cox said.

“A big part of the problem is that Cal deflects credit, whereas Rick deflects blame,” Cox said. “When Aaron Harrison hits a shot to win a game, Cal says, ‘Yeah, I just let ’em play.’ Sure he does.”

Until ’96 many wondered if Rick’s way was the right way to win a title. They wondered if he was a good enough X’s and O’s coach. (That’s how they put it. All that talent, they would say. But can he get it done when it counts?)

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It’s funny. Cal has lost his share of big games in his young career at UK. But he’s certainly won his share, too. And I marvel at how he gets young kids to achieve, to perform on national stages.

Yes, it’s probably true that a Pitino-coached team would have been much less likely to commit three straight shot-clock violations in the Final Four.

It’s probably true of ANY other squad.

But here’s what’s most funny: this is the other side, the context of the story that journalists conveniently forget.

I declare that a Rick Pitino team would have been less likely to execute and make their last nine shots down the stretch to come back and defeat Notre Dame to go to the 2015 Final Four in the first place.

Shouldn’t Calipari also get credit for the coaching that brought home that marvelous victory?

I think so. If you’re convinced of Calipari’s negatives, you must also recognize his brilliance.

It’s funny when we look at things in a different way, isn’t it?

What was Cal’s best close win? UK over Ohio State in the 2010 tourney? Any of Aaron Harrison’s last shots? Leave your comments below and let us know. Or email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter: @rhinoKSR or my website: and maybe I’ll share them.


Article written by Ryan Clark

Ryan Clark has spent most of his life avoiding real work. He has walked the back nine with Tiger Woods, partied with Lebron James in New York and watched Kentucky basketball with Ashley Judd. He's hunted for ghosts in Civil War mansions, screened a movie with Cameron Crowe and interviewed Klan members while eating fried Twinkies at the Mississippi State Fair. He's made bets at the Kentucky Derby with Gilbert Gottfried, shared bootcamp quarters with our nation's finest National Guardsmen and women, and was even named an honorable mention Academic All-American while on academic probation at WKU. It makes sense then that he's now an editor and an instructor at Northern Kentucky University.

17 Comments for It’s hilarious to even have to defend Calipari – but I’m still doing it

  1. KevinM
    9:46 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    2 things come to mind:

    1) Pitino has to get to the Final Four before his team can commit 3 consecutive shot clock violations. As the record shows, he’s not getting there with the regularity Cal is.

    2) Pitino’s OT record at Kentucky: less than stellar.

  2. J-Dub421
    10:12 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    Great post Ryan! Thanks for the additional ammo for arguments I will get into with idiot U of L fans in the future.

  3. Jim Green
    10:29 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    At the end of the day, thee biggest game of the year, the 2014-2015 semi finals against the Badgers UK got out rebounded. In the biggest game of the year how in the name of god did that, could that happen? But it did.

    • CardFan502
      12:12 am July 10, 2015 Permalink

      Calipari didn’t block out.

  4. Wildcat Sheli
    10:35 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    Speaking of shot clock violations ….. what’s the likelihood of EVERY referee missing a shot clock violation that resulted in a basket for Wisconsin? And not reviewing it (I don’t want to hear anything about it not being under 2 minutes . . . watch the game again and count how many times Bo Ryan got a review!!!!). That illegal basket changed the momentum of the whole game and the course of basketball history with it. With 12.2 seconds left we were only down 2…..what would the score have been without that basket? Hmmmmm…..sad that we’ll never really know….I would imagine UK would’ve been up and not tied.

    Cal’s best close victory? I was at the Sweet Sixteen game versus Louisville in 2014 and it was AWESOME!!!!!

  5. Crash Test Dummy
    11:14 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    I doubt Cal would have violated the 15 second shot clock in Porchinis……

    11:56 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    The pressure got to them last year, although the talent on the team was INSANE. They didn’t really have THAT guy, which is probably why the shot clock meltdowns happened. Cal should have gone to Karl early in the post season (SEC tourney) and told him that this is his team and he has to make the plays down the stretch if they are to win it all. I don’t think there was any ONE person that felt empowered enough to take the big shots and either be a hero, or be the guy that lost the undefeated season. A lot of pressure I know, but that is what separates the ALPHA MALES (Bron, Mike, Kobe, Bird, Magic) from the star players.

  7. Coregidori
    11:59 pm July 9, 2015 Permalink

    Spot on! Ryan!

  8. bbnr03
    8:56 am July 10, 2015 Permalink

    I think it’s rather funny how the Courier Journal has essentially picked sides in regards to its sports affiliations. As a young adult well within their target demographic, I never visit the courier site and never read their print publication simply because of their sports bias. In fact, I have convinced most of my friends and my parents to unsubscribe from them as well. There are around 700,000 people living in Louisville and the CJ has alienated half of them. I guess the mystery continues on why the CJ is failing…

    • UKBlue1!
      10:52 am July 10, 2015 Permalink

      I quit subscribing around 2002. This was the time period where they kept apologizing for Tubby. It was obvious that UK would never get back to the final four with him as the coach. Their writers wanted it that way.

  9. d
    9:09 am July 10, 2015 Permalink

    die hard UK fan, but i’ll never get why Cal won’t call timeouts in emergency situations like those

    • syrin23
      3:50 pm July 10, 2015 Permalink

      Even better, why does he shut down the offense with 5 minutes to go, or leave our best three point shooter on the bench when down by five, or leave WCS in for 35 minutes when he is playing like Waldo Calley Stein or why does he leave the twins in when they are playing horribly. We could go on for pages about really REALLY dubious coaching decisions in games that matter under Cal

  10. UKBlue1!
    10:50 am July 10, 2015 Permalink

    22-4 NCAA record, 4 Final 4’s, 1 NCAA and a 7-1 record (2-0 NCAA) vs the turds. It speaks volumes.

  11. R K Oates
    1:57 pm July 10, 2015 Permalink

    It’s pretty simple UofL wishes they had the great history and record the Big Blue has over the years! So tired of also defending Coach Cal! GO BIG BLUE !

  12. syrin23
    3:48 pm July 10, 2015 Permalink

    Here’s what matters. We won the NBA draft night. UK !! UK !! UK !! Hang another banner BABY !!

    We are going to put 200 players into the NBA, and have one title to show for it.

    • CardFan502
      3:59 pm July 10, 2015 Permalink

      U mad, bro?

  13. Dylan
    9:26 pm July 11, 2015 Permalink

    Cal’s best close win is the win against Mississippi State in 2010 in SEC championship game .