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uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

It’s still hard to try to put into words just how bad Kentucky was in Saturday’s 88-58 loss at Tennessee — and the game really wasn’t as close as the 30-point margin might indicate. So to try and explain what happen to the Cats in their first game without injured Nerlens Noel, I went back through my postgame notes looking for quotes to shed light on this epic collapse by the Cats.

— Kentucky coach John Calipari: “We have a couple of guys who are not real coachable. You tell them over and over and over again what you want to do, and they do their own thing. When they realize that if we don’t do this all together, that we are going to have more of these (losses) it will change.”

Calipari did not name the players who are not “coachable” but he didn’t start sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow or freshman forward Alex Poythress and then he told freshman Archie Goodwin during the game that he “could not coach him.” So you draw your own conclusions on who Calipari meant.

But this is the first time in four seasons at UK that Calipari has not been able to get through to players. He has had some — Daniel Orton, Demarcus Cousins, DeAndre Liggins, Josh Harrellson, Terrence Jones — he did not always see eye-to-eye with but they all eventually listened and improved. That was not happening with this team even before Noel went down.

— Tennessee guard Trae Golden: “I don’t think I saw them quit.”

That was his attempt to be tactful when asked if he thought Kentucky quit after the game got out of hand. Or maybe he couldn’t tell since most of the Wildcats never seemed all that enthused from the start. Tennessee beat UK to loose balls, drove inside at will and dominated the boards 39-21.

“We were all saying if we could just blow them out, and you know it happened that way,” Golden said.

Calipari didn’t use the quit when talking about his team, but he sure let his thoughts on his players’ effort be known. “I have to do my thing on what we are going to do offensively and defensively, but we (the coaches) can’t go out there and play for them,” Calipari said.

We can’t go out there and battle for them. We can’t want it more than they do.”

— Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes:They are not a soft team. I feel like they have to get adjusted to playing without Nerlens is part of it.”

The Vols were obviously more physical but Stokes, who almost came to UK but there was no scholarship for him midway of last season, didn’t want to be too hard on Kentucky after admitting “I am friends with a lot of those guys still.”

Calipari was a bit more blunt. “They were stronger with the ball. We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays,” Calipari said.

— Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin: “I thought he did a great job running the team and being Trae Golden. Attacking the rim, making plays, and when that happens everything else falls in line.”

Tennessee’s point guard had 24 points, eight assists and got to the foul line 12 times. Harrow, UK’s starter most of the season, had no points, rebounds or assists. Polson had 11 points and four rebounds, but even his best effort wasn’t nearly enough to keep Golden out of the lane or creating for teammates.

Kentucky has been used to that type of point guard play from John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague. Harrow has shown flashes of brilliance, but nothing consistent like those three and in the biggest games he’s not been able to deliver like what Golden did.

“Your shooters are ready to shoot the ball, dribble, penetrate, and they have to identify five guys as apposed to two or three guys. We got better with our offense, the floor really opened up and I think that all starts with Trae Golden. When he plays the way we expect him to play, everything falls in line and it becomes a fun game,” Martin said.

— Calipari:This team hadn’t beaten us in awhile, kind of like Florida. Now, this was their chance to get that wounded animal. They rode the car over us a couple of times—over and back, over and back.”

And do you think Tennessee is the only Southeastern Conference team that would like to put a beatdown on a wounded Wildcat? Next comes Vanderbilt, a team UK was lucky to beat in Nashville with Noel. After that the ESPN GameDay crew rolls into Lexington for Missouri’s first game in Rupp Arena. Those teams have to be wishing the games were today and will come in with absolutely no fear of No-Noel UK.

“We didn’t really mention Noel being out that much, but Coach told us to get to the rim. Without Noel, it worked,” Stokes said. “Noel is probably the best shot blocker in college basketball and not having him made a huge difference. But we also shot the ball great, so that also made a difference.”
It did. But it is a lot easier to shoot with no pressure and that’s what the UK defense gave the Vols — no pressure and many easy looks.

“We had two or three guys in this game who couldn’t play—they just couldn’t get open and play,” Calipari said.

— Stokes: “I think Kentucky is a very good team. I love coach Calipari. I think he is a great coach. They will be fine.”

Fine? Probably defends on the definition of fine. UK has six games left and now probably has to win four to be back in NCAA Tournament contention — and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where UK will win four of the next six games. Calipari has been working four months without getting his team to listen or play tougher, so why think that will change in the next three weeks.

“We’ll get back. I’ve done this 20-something years and I’ve had this happen. The question is: Will they respond coming back. The only way that you can respond is to change. We have to realize that the things that we are doing aren’t right.”

Maybe his players know that after being embarrassed Saturday, but previous losses and Noel’s injury certainly did nothing to inspire a greater effort out of most of the Cats at Tennessee.

15 Responses to Quotes to ponder to help understand Kentucky’s debacle at Tennessee

  • King Ghidora says:

    I’ve been railed against for suggesting that some of the current players just weren’t coachable. Maybe now some of those who flamed me for saying it will get the picture. It’s been obvious since the first game to be honest. I’ve avoided saying these things the whole year because I don’t like to criticize kids. But some of the players who came to UK this year seemed to have it all figured out when they got there if you know what I mean. They did the same things over and over even though it was obvious those things didn’t work. They didn’t work hard for loose balls. And probably most important, they didn’t have any conception of what it means to play like a team. I really thought Cal would get them to get past that but he hasn’t. Part of this has to rest with him. But when players don’t listen it doesn’t matter who the coach is. I think he’ll need to make some adjustments to the style that has worked so well up until now. He will have to have players to put in when the starters aren’t getting it done.

    I hate to say this (I mean I “really” hate to say this) but this team looked like an Orlando Smith team. I think part of it was having untested kids being ranked so high before they ever laced up a shoe for a game. Kids can get it in their head that they don’t have to listen. That’s the downfall of most kids in fact. Obviously the kids must have talent but that isn’t UK’s problem. They have talent. They don’t listen to the coach. It’s the coach’s job to get them to listen but sometimes that’s just impossible especially when the players have seen great success from a team just before them. They don’t come in with the attitude that they have to work hard. I saw that many times under Smith. Now I’ve seen it under Cal. I hope to heavens it won’t be a pattern. The Cats lost all their leadership from the 1998 championship team because the returning players essentially took a victory lap the entire season. But the players that followed them thought that was how it worked in college and they never got back to working hard until Cal came along IMO. There was the one UK team under Smith that worked hard but they didn’t have great talent by then. These things can spiral down quickly. Bad seasons make for bad recruiting and bad attitudes lead to worse attitudes.

    I sure hope the super talented team doesn’t come in next year expecting to win without working as a team. The greatness of the team last year was the team work. It’s the opposite this year. No one seems to know how to pass except maybe one or two players and those guys can’t play defense. It’s a bad situation that could get worse. Man I really don’t want to go back down that road.

    I “think” there will be better attitudes next year but some of the bad attitudes on this team could be back and lead younger players to have bad attitudes as well. Jealousy, selfishness, etc. can ruin a team. I look back at the talent of the first Smith teams after the Pitino recruited players. They had Prince, Bogans and Estill all of which were really good players. Prince was a great player. But they never clicked at UK because of “team” issues. One player caused those problems IMO. I think you all know who I mean. That player set the tone for a decade of turmoil at UK. I’d hate to think we’re seeing the same sort of thing set in again.

    It’s so easy for players to come in thinking they are entitled. Playing at schools with less tradition it’s harder to think that too. They expect to have to work to win if you’re playing somewhere they don’t win all the time. But at UK players expect they will win no matter what and sometimes that means they think they will win without working hard or playing team ball.

    Cal needs to do what Rupp would have done. He would have basically cleaned house by moving in all new players and letting the bad attitudes ride the pines until they either saw the light or graduated or just quit. Rupp had a lot of players quit. If a kid thinks he is smarter than the coach then the coach really doesn’t have a lot of choice about it. He must nip the problems in the bud. A single player can cause a festering mess of a team attitude. And IMO UK has several guys capable of making it bad for everyone.

    Cal is really lucky he has a great team already lined up for next year because his recruiting magic might have died with this current team. He has a chance to reverse that problem. He better not mess up next year or it may be a long road back to the top.

  • grant says:

    good king!

  • mill8j says:

    It is very obvious that this team just does not have “it”. There is no majic wand when you recruit top talent they need to work hard and listen to the coach. Cal’s track record speaks for it’s self. Some of these kids think they know more than Cal because they dominated in HS. We will write this off and move on

  • Poncho Blue says:

    King is right on. I also believe some of these kids believe that no matter what, they are guaranteed as a top pick. Does anyone believe an NBA GM would bring in any of these attitudes? Is Cal going to hype these players as he has in the past to enter the draft? The season does not bode well for tournament play even NIT. I think even some of the walk ons should get minutes for experience. You never know someone may bloom while the self entitled ponder their draft pick on the bench.

    • LindaS says:

      Yes the GM would, look how many go to the NBA, get pushed to the D league, end up in Europe or else end up wondering what they are going to do with the rest of their life.

  • Stephen Curran says:

    GREAT read,King.I said the same thing more or less back in the season.These players realize he has no one to replace them off the bench if they don’t do what he wants .You can’t win many games with just 6 players you need enough to sit them down if need be and coach doesn’t have them. Now were down to 5 and if we get into foul trouble he has to go into players that never seen action in the past.He has to start building a bench to back up his starters. Riding the pines changes your mind set.

    • larryvaught says:

      King got a shout out from Bob Valvano for his comments he posted here during my time on the Louisville radio station with him today

  • goukats says:

    I rewatched the game,and when able to watch without the pressure of not knowing what is going to happen next,one is able to get a better perspective of what is happening.This game was over before it began as players did not seem to have any fight or energy.In fact they reminded me of the football team coming onto the field unprepared and not interested in what they were there for.They were completely lost on offense and defense,and completely out of sync.It seems this team reacts to how the game is called.

    Hopefully Some of these guys who have been under performing will wake yp,get their mojo back and show we fans why they were recruited to play here.

  • grant says:

    No matter what , whoever stays after this year at UK , I hope to god they don’t rub off on next years class in a negative manner.

    • LindaS says:

      I have thought the same thing, Grant. One thing we have in our favor, none of these scholarships are guaranteed from year to year, they are renewable. Unless the players show some reason they should be here next year, it won’t be the first time a player would be looking elsewhere for the following season.

  • Larry Pup says:

    My! MY! I have never seen so much gloom and doom. We might as well forfeit our next six games. What this team needs is some tough love, some tough as nails coaching, just a little more encouragement, and some fans that still believe.

  • mill8j says:

    Larry Pup I always stay positive and have never quit on this team. But there are times that the facts are so overwhelming that you have to shake your head and realize that this team does not have what it takes. They don’t dig in when the game demands it! It’s not in their DNA not with this group of kids. I hate to watch like everyone else but my eyes don’t lie I know what I see. They don’t pass the eyeball test, plain and simple. Go Cats

  • donv says:

    No question that Noel was out best player. He controlled the paint and made everyone else better. We missed on our point guard this year. Harrow is just not tough enough.

    • Larry Pup says:

      We might have to come to grips that some of these guys may not have the toughness and skills right now to compete in D1 college basketball in the SEC. It is not a piece of cake for freshmen for sure. They certainly were exposed Sat. It was a tough row to hoe without Noel at the rim to block shots and score. They may not be as good as they were billed to be. It looks like some of them are overwhelmed right now. They are young and I think they just need another year to hone their skills and get stronger. I hate to see all the personal attacks by some of our fans who don’t really know what is going on internally with this team. In time the real story will come out. For now keep cheering them on BBN. It’s our team win or lose. UK basketball fans are spoiled rotten.

  • mill8j says:

    you are right we are spoiled! This is one of those years that the 1 and done just didn’t come together. nobodys fault really, it is what it is. you can’t be charmed every year!! Go Cats

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