By LARRY VAUGHT
I’ve seen a lot of bad losses by Kentucky basketball teams in Rupp Arena — think back to Eddie Sutton’s final year, Billy Gillispie’s final year — but Tuesday night’s shocking 67-64 loss to Evansville has to be the worst of the John Calipari era.
A week ago, UK beat then No. 1 Michigan State in Madison Square Garden. Tonight No. 1 Kentucky lost to a team that won 11 games all of last year and came into the game as a TWENTY-FIVE POINT underdog.
How did Kentucky lose? Easy. It was just far better execution by Evansville — which had nine 3-point field goals and went 12-for-13 at the foul line — along with far better effort by a team that got more and more confident as sluggish UK failed to impose its will. A 9-0 Evansville run wiped out a 16-15 UK lead and the Cats never led again until briefly going ahead 48-46 the was immediately answered by a 5-0 Evansville run.
Kentucky got out rebounded 38-35. Evansville got 14 points off turnovers, 28 points in the paint and its bench outscored UK 26-24. How does that happen?
Again, it goes back to effort. Evansville played with an intensity and all-out fight. Kentucky was easy to push around, slow to defend and got beat to loose ball after loose ball. That’s why UK became the first No. 1 team to lose at home in November since Cincinnati in 1996.
Immanuel Quickley had a career-high 16 points and career-high nine rebounds. Tyrese Maxey added 15 points.
Obviously, Evansville coach Walter McCarty, a starter on UK’s 1996 national championship team, was elated.
“If we had pulled it out, would not have been fair. They were the tougher team and more ready to play. He had his team more prepared to play than I had my team,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
McCarty’s players said they were not “surprised” they won because they believed they could all week. McCarty admitted he even told former UK teammate Tony Delk that “we were going to surprise people” in this game.
“We have guys who are talented. We have guys who can play,” McCarty said. “It felt like us against the world. Nobody expected us to come here and play the way we did. It feels great. The way we play is tough for teams to play us if they don’t play a lot of guys. I believe in my guys.”
Calipari harped on how Evansville would be not only playing better but also playing tougher. Remember for almost a month Calipari has wondered about his team’s toughness. It seemed like a silly worry after UK beat Michigan State but Evansville dominated UK physically as strange as that sounds.
“We reverted today,” Calipari said. “We couldn’t post the ball. We couldn’t hold position in the post. We couldn’t come off screens. We were late getting to rotations, which we had not done in two games and they made us pay.”