- Saturday, February 27 2010 -
Kentucky - 65 (Head Coach: John Calipari) - [Ranked 2nd by AP and 2nd by ESPN/USA Today]
Tennessee - 74 (Head Coach: Bruce Pearl) - [Ranked 19th by AP and 17th by ESPN/USA Today]
|J.P. Prince (*)||26||6||10||2||4||6||9||0||2||2||3||2||1||2||1||20|
Halftime Score: Tennessee 40, Kentucky 29
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|South Carolina 82 - 61|||||Georgia 80 - 68|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Calipari sees value in loss to Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - John Calipari despises losing, but he can live with the outcome if it presents the lessons necessary to be snipping nets in April. Count Kentucky's second defeat as the perfect tool for developing championship mettle.
The Cats arrived at Tennessee a tired, unfocused squad and left with a 74-65 loss but somewhere in the middle may have discovered the urgency a team must play with in order to be successful in the postseason. Despite falling behind by 19 points early in the second half UK rallied to pull even with 2:10 remaining before finally running out of steam.
"This is like being in the Elite Eight or Sweet 16, we didn't play well, were down 11 now let's see what we do in the half," Calipari said. "Everything I do in the season is geared toward that time of year. Everything. It's more than winning. It's more than that. I need to find out when you call on someone who has that courage and toughness to do it. There were too many excuses. Battle back. I don't want to hear excuses. That's all the growing up we've got to do.
"This is high-level stuff now. We're 27-2 and No. 2 in the country. These guys have never been in this. You don't think they're feeling some of this? Well, good. Now I need to know who can deal with that because it's going to feel that way in about another three weeks. Who can play and who can't."
The Cats certainly looked like a team that lacked the basic understanding of the stakes this time of year. Playing just 37 hours after dispatching of South Carolina UK took the court at high noon looking like a squad that would rather still be huddled under the covers in its hotel room. After scoring the first four points of the contest, UK was shut out for more than five minutes as Tennessee exploded for an 18-0 spurt.
The contrast in energy level was obvious from the jump and extended into the second half when Tennessee opened up a 54-35 advantage with 14:04 remaining, the largest deficit UK has faced all season. The Cats, for all intents and purposes, looked dead in the water.
Then something (or perhaps someone by the name of John Wall) snapped in the Cats and the game was on. Wall scored on three consecutive slices to the basket to pull the Cats within 10 before Darius Miller stuck a trio of jumpers to cut the deficit to 63-59 with 4:18 remaining. With Tennessee rocked firmly on its heels DeMarcus Cousins scored six straight points, including two dunks in transition, to draw the Cats even at 65.
"When it went 65-65 I thought we were winning," Calipari said. "No question in my mind we were winning this game."
Only Kentucky didn't. Tennessee stopped the bleeding when J.P. Prince scored on a reverse lay-up then had a chance to take control when Scotty Hopson got out on the break after Wall was stripped. Miller somehow blocked Hopson's one-on-one drive and controlled the rebound but dribbled the ball off his leg out of bounds with 1:08 left. Hopson then buried a NBA-length three from the left wing (his first after missing all five previous attempts in the game) to push the lead to 70-65 and effectively end the game with 37.6 seconds to play.
"You know what, they made a play," Calipari said. "It was a breakdown. That's why I looked at the guy. It's a situation we work on over and over and over. You're not supposed to give that up and we gave it up. That's why I'm saying down the stretch we broke down and they made them."
Still, those are the lessons Calipari has sought for his inexperienced squad.
"He said to imagine that two weeks from now if we lost that game our season is over with," Wall said of Calipari's postgame message. "He's just trying to reach out to certain people on our team and get them prepared for the tournament. It's getting through. It's going to take a lot of work.
"This is a great loss. He wanted us to win the game, but it's a lesson because if this was the tournament we're sitting at home now."
It's a valuable lesson to learn.
Patrick Patterson (#54) drives around Steven Pearl
Eric Bledsoe (#24) drives around J.P. Prince
DeMarcus Cousins and Darius Miller fight inside