Wildcats Bounce Back After Second SEC Loss

by Dan Bodner
Columnist

After a second consecutive Southeastern Conference loss, University of Kentucky head coach John Calipari was quoted as saying that his team was in a state of “crisis.”
Although the team fell just two points short in each of these two games, the losses combined to temper the enthusiasm of many Wildcats fans who had been dreaming of a Final Four run just days earlier.

While the sense of doom and gloom radiated by fans may have been a bit extreme, it is put into perspective by the reminder that last year’s team lost only two games during the entire regular season. This year’s team has already accumulated six of them.

Yet, despite the recent negativity surrounding his team, Calipari remained optimistic about the significance of the crisis.

“Only a crisis brings about change,” Calipari said. “And obviously if (freshman) Brandon (Knight) would have made that shot (against the University of Florida), I probably would have looked at the tape differently and would have thought everything is OK. It’s not.”

The coach believes that the losses provided the team a chance to recognize and correct a number of problems that may have otherwise been overlooked.

He further explained that what matters most is not the team’s win-loss record, but that the players continue to improve throughout the course of the season. A one- or two-loss record may be impressive, but it may also be covering up a number of blemishes that could cost the team come tournament time.

It’s safe to say that Kentucky’s blemishes were made apparent to Calipari by its two most recent losses.

“We’re stuck in not enough toughness, not enough togetherness, not enough passion for playing, not enough of that will to win, fight,” said Calipari.

A matchup with another conference rival, the University of Tennessee, on Tuesday night provided the Wildcats with an ample opportunity to prove that they could recover from their crisis. The young team did not disappoint as it defeated the Volunteers 73-61.

Calipari was pleased with the team’s effort and believed that it had improved upon many of the issues from the past two games.

“We showed toughness. We outrebounded a good team,” said Calipari. “One of the things I wanted them to do was get closer to our goal of 20 assists, and I told them that prior to the game. You’ve got to get to where you’re passing the ball for each other and trying to play the game for each other, and I thought they did that.”

Kentucky ultimately outrebounded Tennessee 34-24, with 13 of those coming on the offensive end. The team fell short of its goal of 20 assists but still displayed an improvement in ball movement and shot selection.

Yet, the biggest improvement was likely the play of the upperclassmen. Senior Josh Harrellson and junior DeAndre Liggins combined for a monstrous 35 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals while shooting 86 percent from the field. Even junior Darius Miller, who had a rough shooting night, still managed to contribute six rebounds, a couple of assists and four key free throws.

More importantly, the players continued to hustle on both ends of the court, even when things may not have been going their way offensively.
Calipari specifically pointed to the play of freshman Terrence Jones.

“Terrence today had four blocks and 11 rebounds, and played awful offensively,” Calipari said. “But that’s why we won, because he rebounded and blocked shots.”

Kentucky’s losses this season have not come as a result of a lack of talent but rather a lack of attitude. The Tennessee game proved that the team is still capable of playing with a winning mindset.

The question that now looms larger than ever is whether the Wildcats can bring this same attitude with them on the road.

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