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Should Calipari have seen early collapse coming for Cats?

P.J. Washington (Jeff Houchin Photo)


Former Kentucky basketball player Cameron Mills reminded UK fans that during the Cats’ incredible run from 1996 to 1998 — two national titles, one national runner-up — that the seasons did not start well for Big Blue.

During the 1995-96 season, Kentucky’s dominating team lost 92-82 to UMass (coached by John Calipari) in game two. Kentucky went on to a 34-2 record and won the national title.

The next season, UK lost 79-71 to Clemson in Indianapolis in the season’s first game. That team finished 35-5 and lost to Arizona in overtime in the national title game.

The 1997-98 season, Kentucky’s eventual national championship team lost 89-74 to Arizona in game three. The team went on a 29-4 record and beat Utah in the title game.

Of course, none of those losses were as disheartening as the 118-84 thumping UK took from Duke Tuesday  night. But as former UK All-American Rex Chapman noted, it’s only November.

Still, I got this note today from a friend I thought you might appreciate:

“I observe that the two exhibition games provide a valid glimpse at the way a team will play against D1 competition.  When I mention this , I get the usual rebukes that those games mean nothing. This team did not perform like a championship caliber team in either of their exhibitions and Duke did.  We saw the difference manifest in its full glory last night.  I get it that Transy has a bit of an edge to play for against UK and that IUP is a quality program at their level of basketball, BUT a championship quality D1 team should have manhandled both of them, and this team did not.

“Last night was the most discouraged I have ever been as a fan in my 50 plus years following the Cats. One game does not a season make, blah, blah, blah, … so perhaps Coach Calipari can bring this team around.  This group certainly showed us in August they can play very good basketball, which begs the questions:  What has happened since August?  How could Coach Calipari not have seen this coming?”

Great question. Of course, I think he did see it coming after the IUP game when he kind of casually mentioned the Duke game would “be a lot harder” than he originally thought. He was right because he had to see that UK could not defend big-time athletes.

Can he get it fixed? Hopefully but there is not a mega star on this team yet. Maybe there could be one, but there is not one yet and his best teams always have at least one .

So while an early loss doesn’t negate March Madness success, it takes more than just wishful thinking for that to happen.

“Point is, however, that early losses mean nothing unless you refuse to be humble  and wake up,” Mills said.

Now we’ll see if you will wake up because being humble should be easy after Tuesday night.




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  1. How could Cal not possibly have seen it coming? The sad thing is that this coach, team, and BBN will never be able to run from this. This will be in the history books forever and rank right up there with Laetner part 2. The thing that is hard to come to grips with is that the coaching staff went the whole game and could not stop the bleeding or make any adjustments. I wonder if Gran was any where near the bench.

    1. Ha Ha…See my comment below that was made before I saw yours. I agree with you 110%.

  2. This beat-down suffered at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils will forever be a stain on the record of the Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Program.
    I know I will never forget it if I live to be a 100.

    1. Great minds do sometimes think alike don’t they? I am retired, and I think you said you were too, but I never thought any of us would ever see as thorough a beat down as this was. Coach K seemed to keep his composure but you know he enjoyed every moment, and I am sure will have many recruiting benefits from it as well. He sure has Cal’s number and that won’t be changing anytime soon.

  3. Yeah it was ugly and left a sour taste in our mouth. All we can do is put that behind us and go forward. This not the first time we took a early season thumping sometimes it could be a good thing. We have finish out and done good things as the season goes along like we did 1975 got beat by the Hoosiers by 30 and went on to the title game not only what Mills mention in this column.

  4. No need to panic, but plenty of need to stress that on offense, the team needs to “move the ball” either via “dribble drive and passing” or via simple passing and movement without the ball.

    We won’t be anyone good with one a “One Pass and Launch” offense. Better to use the speed and athleticism of this team to create easier scoring chances than “launching”.

    Second, Cal cannot start Herro. He can’t guard “starting guards”, and has struggled getting his shot off against all three “starting units” he’s faced in the last three games. He’d be better coming in against the other team’s “second rotation”, which will make it easier for him to get his shot off and to score

    Finally, very few “Top Tier Recruits” are taught to play defense in high school or in AAU ball, so it’s not surprising when our freshmen have trouble guarding especially on the perimeter. Cal need to learn to try a zone defense. I would have shifted to a zone sometime in the first half to see if it could stop Duke’s offensive rhythm/momentum. Not sure why we stubbornly stayed in a man-to-man.

    All of the negatives are “fixable”, but again, the players have to be willing to admit they have “areas to improve” which isn’t always the case.

  5. All great programs have bad moments. It’s not as bad though as losing to Wofford at home on opening night (unc) or taking an exit in first round of ncaa tourney by a 15th seed (duke).

  6. It is worse than losing to Wofford because public does not remember that loss. This loss will constantly be blasted by all into infamy.

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