By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
I don’t think this will be a popular take but at the end of the season I think it will prove to be true. Kentucky losing to Evansville 67-64 in the second game of the season is a good loss. I realize most people say that there is no such thing as a good loss. I would tend to agree if the same lessons that are learned from losing could be learned from winning. They can’t.
Author Chuck Swindoll said about winning and losing, “Ours is a winner-oriented world. But isn’t it strange that the best lessons are invariably learned from defeat? Pain remains a strict but faithful teacher, and the crucible produces much more character than waving the winner’s flag.”
He is absolutely correct. When players that have little or no college playing experience make a meteoric rise up in the basketball world it does something to their psyche. They begin to believe they have arrived. As Calipari once said, “They think they poop ice cream.” Graphic, but true.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban calls it rat poison. All the attention. Stories on ESPN. Analysts in the pre-season predicting a 30-1 season. And the 1 was Michigan State. The players think, “If we can beat Michigan State in Madison Square Garden we will have no problem with Evansville at Rupp.”
That type thinking is what will cause a team to lose in the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. It has done that to Kentucky in the past. A painful Kansas State loss comes to mind but there are others. Losing one game is just that, one game. It’s not season ending but it could be season making. It could point out areas of deficiency for each player to work on and it could allow the coaches an opportunity to get the attention of each player on that roster.
They all know that Kentucky doesn’t lose to unranked teams in Rupp Arena. In fact Kentucky was 39-0 against unranked teams when they were the No. 1 ranked team. Not any more. Not when you turn the ball over 13 times, shoot 23.5 percent from three point range and foul the other team 18 times. Those statistics show that the UK players weren’t prepared to play. It shows that maybe Calipari and staff weren’t prepared to coach.
At the end of the year this team will most likely look back at this game, and potentially other losses along the way, and see that they were stepping stones to their climb to being a better, smarter team. One that has learned the lesson that against a lesser opponent on offense you drive the ball and feed the post.
You don’t shoot 17 3-point shots when you are only hitting 23.5 percent. You play team defense, rotate to the open man and move your feet on defense. They did all of that against Michigan State; they did none of that against Evansville.
But we have all seen this scenario play out before. New crop of UK freshmen, holdover group of sophomores that didn’t feel comfortable rolling the dice in the NBA Draft; they don’t know what it takes to compete against experienced college juniors and seniors. When that happens early in the season experience generally beats talent. Late in the season talent with a little seasoning almost always comes out on top. Like a fine wine the talent just needs to age a little. Losses like this are part of that aging process.
Now everyone, especially the players, can forget about the 30-1 predictions, the No. 1 rankings and the National Player of the Year predictions and get down to the business of improving as individuals and as a basketball team. If that happens this loss will be something UK fans can cheer about at the end of the season.