Maybe I am wrong about this but I feel like when Rick Pitino was the coach at Kentucky one of the biggest complaints fans had about him was his late-game play-calling or strategy. Certainly the Duke debacle was just one example. But I feel like many argued UK never got good shots at the end of halves and games. We saw that again on Saturday when Damion Lee attempted an incredibly difficult three for the win. Much of the credit goes to UK’s defense but Lee had a chance to drive that ball and instead chose the much more difficult option. I would argue that is a mentality either created or fostered by the head coach.
So let’s look at our coach. How have his teams performed in the clutch? Sure, we all remember the incredible 2014 run of games. But what about over the course of 6+ seasons? How have Cal’s teams executed down the stretch. I decided taking it to the most “clutch” parameters I can think of. Below are the results of any game UK played that was within a possession (3 points) either way in the final minute of the game.
Wins: Miami OH (72-70), Stanford (73-65, ot), North Carolina (68-66), UCONN (64-61), at Auburn (72-67), at Mississippi State (81-75, ot), at Vanderbilt (58-56), Mississippi State (75-74, ot)
Losses: at South Carolina (68-62)
Wins: Washington (74-67), Vanderbilt (68-66), Tennessee (64-58), Princeton (59-57), Ohio State (62-60), North Carolina (76-69)
Losses: at North Carolina (75-73), at Alabama (68-66), at Ole Miss (71-69), at Florida (70-68), at Vanderbilt (81-77), at Arkansas (77-76, ot). UCONN (56-55)
Wins: North Carolina (73-72), at Tennessee (65-62), Alabama (77-71), Florida (74-71)
Losses: at Indiana (73-72), Vanderbilt (71-64)
Wins: Maryland (72-69), at Vanderbilt (60-58), LSU (75-70), at Texas A&M (72-68), Vanderbilt (74-70), Missouri (90-83, ot), Florida (61-57)
Losses: at Louisville (80-77), at Alabama (59-55), at Robert Morris (59-57)
Wins: at Missouri (84-79), LSU (77-76, ot), Wichita St (78-76), Louisville (74-69), Michigan (75-72), Wisconsin (74-73)
Losses: Michigan State (78-74), Baylor (67-62), at North Carolina (82-77), at Arkansas (87-85, ot), Arkansas (71-67, ot), at South Carolina (72-67), Florida (61-60)
Wins: Ole Miss (89-86, ot), at Texas A&M (70-64, 2ot), at LSU (71-69), Notre Dame (68-66)
Losses: Wisconsin (71-64)
Wins: Louisville (75-73)
Home Record: 14-1
Road Record: 9-14
Neutral Record: 13-6
SEC Tournament: 2-2
NCAA Tournament: 8-2
So consider those numbers above a little, especially that last number, the NCAA Tournament. Some fans, including many of our own, have complained that Calipari has let a couple titles slip through his fingers. IN A BEST CASE SCENARIO, UK could have as many as 5 titles in the Cal era. But the fact is that UK under Cal has been incredibly good (or fortunate) in tight games in the NCAA Tournament. Did the loss to Wisconsin last year hurt and was there some blunders in that game? Of course. But considering the Cats were lucky to escape Notre Dame the game before means they were do for some bad luck.
The year before. Was losing to UCONN an upset? I would say so. But for UK to survive Wichita, UL, Michigan, and Wisconsin the way they did, they had more than enough good fortune and clutch play over that 2 weeks. The point being: CALIPARI TEAMS HAVE BEEN CLUTCH. They are nearly unbeatable in tight games at home and in March, they have been very, very good. Some people might call that lucky, but when you’ve won 8 out 10 NCAA Tournament games within a possession in the final minute, there has to be something to way guys are coached/motivated.