Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari critical of himself after 1-6 start to college basketball season
Coach John Calipari’s summation of the Kentucky Wildcats’ sixth straight loss — a 62-59 defeat to rival Louisville on the road Saturday — was simple and to the point: “Losing stinks.”
“Let me just say this again, losing stinks,” Calipari said. “We had our chances, and we had some breakdowns.”
Kentucky fell to 1-6 for just the third time in program history, matching starts by the Wildcats in 1911 and 1926, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
The Wildcats had their chances late in the game but went without a field goal for the final 3:22. Devin Askew missed a 3-pointer that would’ve given Kentucky a lead with 23 seconds left, and Olivier Sarr’s jumper with 8 seconds left hit every part of the rim before falling off. Brandon Boston Jr. missed a desperation tying shot in the final seconds.
Kentucky’s typical offensive performers struggled Saturday, with Sarr and Terrence Clarke combining to miss all eight attempts from the field. Clarke was dealing with an ankle injury — he didn’t start, and Calipari said he’s only around 80 percent healthy — while Sarr hasn’t made a field goal in the past two games since scoring 22 points against Notre Dame.
“We went into the game, ‘As many times as we can throw him the ball, we’re going to,'” Calipari said. “That was our game plan. They did a good job of fighting, fronting and doing some things. And he missed some shots. When you start missing shots, it starts playing with your confidence. It’s not like we’re not going to him, we are.”
Saturday’s loss gave Kentucky its first six-game losing streak since the 1988-89 season, while this is also the first 1-6 start by any SEC team since Ole Miss in 1989-90, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Perhaps more concerning is the fact that no team that started a season with a 1-6 mark has ever received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t believe it’s over,” Calipari said. “We haven’t played a league game yet. Let’s go do what we do. I’m not budging, I’m not cracking.”
Kentucky’s scheduled SEC opener against South Carolina on Tuesday was postponed because of COVID-19 issues, so the Wildcats aren’t slated to play again until a trip to Mississippi State next Saturday.
“All of a sudden, you get punched in the mouth and you start tasting blood, how do you react?” Calipari said.
“How do we limit some of the breakdowns? … Where’s the leadership right now where we had chances? We’ve had our chances and we’ve dropped them all.”
Kentucky entered the season with only one player who saw the court last season for the Wildcats, sophomore forward Keion Brooks — who hasn’t played yet this season because of injury. After a season-opening win over Morehead State, Kentucky has lost to Richmond, Kansas and four straight ACC opponents.
Calipari questioned his decision to schedule such a difficult start for a young and inexperienced team after an abbreviated preseason.
“We need more time for all the team-building stuff that we do here all the time,” Calipari said. “We team-build in the summer. We team-build in the fall. We’re making up time. Not where we need to be, but making up time.
“You gotta play games you can win to build confidence. … This was the stupidest schedule I’ve ever put together. I’d like to smack myself in the mouth.”