For those who didn’t see America’s 99-87 loss to Canada, you may be wondering, “How in the hell did Cal’s team lose to a hockey country?” Here’s how:
Washington, Diallo Weren’t at Their Best
On paper, a 17-point 13-rebound game is great, but P.J. Washington was not at his best today. The UK small forward received rave reviews at the beginning of the tournament by displaying exceptional versatility. Today he had the finesse to get through Canada’s 2-3 zone, but could not fight through to finish contested shots near the rim.
Hamidou Diallo was out of sorts. He could not buy a bucket (2/11). He could draw contact and get to the free throw line, but he couldn’t hit those either (4/8). He tried to contribute on the defensive end, but instead of steals, he got fouls.
Everybody plays bad games from time-to-time. It’s awfully hard for this team to win when two of their best players aren’t at their best.
The U19 teams are usually composed for college freshmen who have a year of experience. Auburn’s Austin Wiley was the most consistent American on the floor, finishing with 13 points and 17 rebounds. However, he is one of just a few with big game experience.
On more than one occasion, the Americans were given golden opportunities they could never take advantage of. They fought back to tie the ball game right before half, until Louis King fouled R.J. Barrett on a three. Instead of capturing momentum out of the halftime locker room, they surrendered it to the Canadians. With seven minutes to play, Canada’s two best players went to the bench with four fouls. Nobody stepped up to take control of the game, and the inexperienced group let their final comeback opportunity go to waste.
What separates John Calipari’s great teams from his good ones is all at the free throw line. This team does not receive “great” status. They were aggressive enough to get to the line, but couldn’t finish. Team USA made 25/43 free throws, good for just 58 percent. Even worse, throughout the entire tournament Diallo and Washington have shot a combined 32 of 62 from the charity stripe.
Cal Didn’t Talk After the Game
The first coach to lose a game for Team USA since 2011, to an outsider it’s not a good look to skip the press conference. In fact, it’s just more ammunition for Calipari critics. That ammunition does not have any context.
Team USA has not held a postgame press conference in Cairo. Our correspondent Sofie Tapia has only been able to get quotes after persuading Team USA’s PR person for exclusive access. People love to hear from Cal after losses because it rarely happens. It did not happen today because it hasn’t happened all week.
R.J. Barrett was AMAZING
At the end of the day, the Americans had to be at their best to beat R.J. Barrett. I don’t care how great their defense was, Barrett was in a zone and could not be stopped. You’ve seen it happen before: Jodie Meeks did it to Tennessee, Malik Monk did it this year against North Carolina, Kevin Durant did it in the NBA Finals, and Jamal Murray did it to Team USA in the PanAm games.
R.J. Barrett is the No. 1 player in the 2019 class. If he reclassifies to the 2018 class, he might be the best player in 2018 too. All you can do is respect the kid’s greatness and hope he eventually is playing for John Calipari, rather than against him.