By LARRY VAUGHT
LAS VEGAS — Will losing to Utah 69-66 here Wednesday night be good for Kentucky?
Coach John Calipari hopes so.
“A lot of times you win a game like this it hurts you more than it helps you. A lot of times you have to take it to understand that this is not going to work this way, and it’s not going to work for individuals either,” Calipari said after his team almost rallied to win after being down 17 points with 12 minutes to play.
Calipari admitted it was a “great win” that Utah deserved.
“It’s disappointing, but this stuff happens,” Calipari said.
Well, it’s happened twice now because last month Kentucky lost in Rupp Arena to Evansville, a team that lost by 26 points at Jacksonville State Monday. Utah had lost to Coastal Carolina and Tulane.
Utah had the lead for almost 38 minutes in this game and hit eight 3-pointers to only two for UK — which shot 17. The Utes also had as many rebounds as UK.
“I know this, you gotta fight. We fought to get back in the game. Then we fought – dove on the floor, we got after balls, we did some stuff. So why didn’t you start that way? Because you don’t think you have to fight,” Calipari said.
Why would the Cats think that? The coach had no way to explain it.
“How about they had three freshmen starting and two sophomores and they punched us in the mouth?” Calipari said. “So all this stuff about my young team? He has a young team, too. One guys weighs 250. Uh no, 195. The other guy weighs 260, no 210. They weren’t beasts that way.”
No they were not but they looked like beasts playing against UK because Utah had its way inside most of the game against older, more experienced UK players.
“What they did was they physically fought. They fought for position. They fought you on defense. They fought for rebounds. It’s what I’m trying to get my team to do,” Calipari said.
He’s been preaching that for weeks. So far, the Cats don’t seem to have bought in totally — something they better do before playing No. 5 Ohio State here Saturday or it could get ugly. Same with a home game Dec. 28 against No. 3 Louisville.
“My team, more than any team I’ve coached in the last five to seven years, needs each other,” Calipari said. “You have to do your job or we’re in trouble and most of that is battle. We all have to do this together.”