By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ Seeing John Calipari get ejected Saturday night might be more surprising than watching Santa Claus come down my chimney sometime early Christmas morning.
CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Kentucky Wildcats were leading 72-46 when official Mike Stuart put on his best Academy Award performance and hit Calipari with a technical from across the floor just seconds after the UK coach had picked up his first foul.
The naughty, naughty coach got to head off the court with his team safely ahead of Mississippi Valley State 72-46 and on its way to a 85-60 victory, but there was not a lot of cheer on this night for the somewhat sluggish Cats against a team that has been on the road since Dec. 11Ã‚Â playing four games.
It was nice to see former UK coach Joe Hall recognized and have over 40 former players return to honor his legacy and 25th anniversary of his retirement. But this was not a vintage UK performance Ã¢â‚¬â€ even before Calipari was ejected for only the second time in his career (the first game was at Massachusetts against George Washington in 1996Ã‚Â even though Calipari forgot that during his postgame comments).
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have done this for 20-some years. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the first game I was ever thrown out of, pro or college,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Calipari. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all … thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I can tell you.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If he wants to throw me out of a game, he does it. I have never been thrown out. I wore the brown suit (that legendary UK coach Adolph Rupp always wore). Was coach Rupp ever thrown out? Now the question is will I wear a brown suit again.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Or maybe if UK players will ever get to openly smile about their coachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s problem during a game instead of having him blast them.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was shocking to see,Ã¢â‚¬Â junior guard DeAndre Liggins, who had to miss 10 games last year for disciplinary reasons, said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know he could be that aggressive. He was trying to defend us the best he could.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari joked that he probably had not had more than two or three technical fouls in the last five years, including none last season in his first year at UK.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was surprised, especially since I had not said two words to those guys,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If I stepped out of the (coachesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢) box, that is his prerogative. I can only control what I do. He can call it and did. We move on.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Losing coach Sean Woods joked he had not seen anything like that since his former UK coach, Rick Pitino, was tossed out of a game at Vanderbilt.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was in that same refÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s behind. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think he was doing a good job,Ã¢â‚¬Â Woods said after his team went 8-for-10 at the foul line compared to UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 24-for-32.
If there were bright spots not overshadowed by CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ejection, they might have been these:
Ã¢â‚¬â€ Kentucky did have a season-high 11 blocked shots, including three by Darius Miller and two each by Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson and even guard Brandon Knight.
Ã¢â‚¬â€ Kentucky held its sixth opponent to under 40 percent field goal shooting, one reason it closed the first half on a 24-4 run.
Ã¢â‚¬â€ Knight hit a running, midcourt shot to end the first half.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I thought it had a chance to go in, especially when it hit the backboard,Ã¢â‚¬Â Knight, who had 14 points and four assists, said.
Ã¢â‚¬â€ Freshman guard Doron Lamb had 16 points, one of five Cats in double figures, and seemed especially energized the first half when UK needed him most.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He played well. He tailed off the second half, but I thought played well. He got to the rim, played through some bumps and is playing with more of a motor,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
CalipariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s motor was running full tilt after Stuart ejected him Ã¢â‚¬â€ and his players likely will see plenty of that motor the next few weeks when there are no practice limitations because school is not in session.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have guys that have to get better,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just have a long way to go.Ã¢â‚¬Â
True, but this game will be remembered as the one Cal go tossed with a 26-point lead.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am not mad at anybody. Stuff like this happens,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Up 26 in a game like this and you get thrown? You just move on. I was not throwing punches or anything. You just go on.Ã¢â‚¬Â