By LARRY VAUGHT
Less than 2 1/2 minutes in Saturday’s game at South Carolina, Kentucky coach John Calipari was finished. He got two technical fouls after a foul call on South Carolina and was ejected just like it was two years ago in Columbia.
This time, though, it didn’t matter as UK rolled to a stunning 89-62 victory over the Gamecocks.
So did Calipari’s ejection set the tone for the big win?
“I thought that when Coach got kicked out – whatever, for the officiating, whatever that was – I thought it set a fire within our guys. I thought they played with, you try to take one of our guys out, we’re coming out and we’re gonna play with more energy, more effort,” assistant coach Kenny Payne said. “We’re gonna fight more, which is what we should be doing anyway. But again, the story isn’t someone else coaching the team. The story is Coach Cal coached the team through Tyler Ulis.”
So Calipari did not get tossed to inspire the team?
“Not at all. He didn’t get out of the way,” Payne said after the game. “I think one of the telling things about this game is that you saw the influence of what Coach Cal has been teaching offensively. I never touched on offense. Didn’t have to. Between Cal and Tyler Ulis, they’re on the same page.
“Tyler Ulis ran the offense. Every now and then I may have interjected something, but at the end of the day it was his show. The only thing I cared about was that we rebounded the ball, played great defense and shared the ball.”
Payne said the UK staff “is one of the best staffs in the country” and they recruit the best players to try and win games.
Payne said he didn’t know what happened to set Calipari off on official Doug Sirmons after the first technical that led to another technical foul and ejection.
“I didn’t see what happened. I really can’t comment on it because I have no idea,” Payne said.
It took five UK players and two coaches to keep Calipari from going after Sirmons. Payne said it took a “lot of effort” to hold Calipari back and he had never seen him that mad.
Calipari didn’t want to talk to the team at halftime, but Payne told him he felt it was important that he did.
What did he tell the team?
“Just you’re doing a great job. Keep doing what we’re doing. He apologized to the players for whatever, losing his cool or whatever. Wished it wouldn’t have happened. But at the end of the day, his influence coached this team,” Payne said.
Marcus Lee would not comment on what Calipari said to get ejected.
“But just know that he’s a great coach to have our back like that,” Lee said. “Seeing Coach (Cal) fight for you changes your whole mentality. So when we see him with all that energy, it kind of just picks you up, and after you tell the coach we’ll be alright. We kind of just took the energy and were like, “Alright, we got this.’ ”
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Calipari was not available to the media. It was the same procedure he followed two years ago when he was ejected from the loss at South Carolina.