By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari got his wish.
On his weekly radio show Monday night, the Kentucky coach made this comment that jumped out at me so much that I made a note of it.
“The crazy thing is we still need to have a bunch of adversity hit to know how this group is doing,” Calipari said.
Well, adversity has hit. Kentucky lost 81-78 at South Carolina Wednesday night after blowing a 13-point lead
How much adversity hit?
— Kentucky had an eight-point halftime lead, scored 45 points in the second half but lost because it gave up 56 — 31 more than South Carolina had in the first half and as many points as South Carolina scored in the game in losses to Stetson, Houston, Wichita State and Tennessee. After UK took a 54-41 lead with about 12 minutes to play, the offensively challenged Gamecocks scored 40 points on 25 possessions. That’s how they rallied to win — no UK defense.
— Kentucky sophomore Immanuel Quickly hit a step-back baseline jumper with 4.1 seconds left to tie the game 78-78. However, no one for Kentucky pressured the ball as South Carolina brought it quickly down the court and got off the winning shot — a banked 3-pointer.
— The Cats gave up TWENTY offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points and made 15 turnovers that turned into NINETEEN South Carolina points.
— UK, one of the nation’s best free throw shooting teams until three games ago, missed 10 of 35 tries at the line.
— Three players Calipari has been trying to push to success — EJ Montgomery, Kahlil Whitney and Keion Brooks — went a combined 2-for-13 from the field. Montgomery had five rebounds, but none came in the second half when he had three fouls and no rebounds in 13 minutes. Calipari also said after the game that missing so many shots is not the way for players to get more playing time.
— Kentucky showed it had not learned from other bad losses. The Cats have now lost at home to Evansville (ranked 246th in KenPom ratings), in Las Vegas to Utah (105th) and now at South Carolina (121st). To put that in perspective, UK’s 2013 NIT team that lost Nerlens Noel to a knee injury had ONE loss to a team not ranked in the top 100 (and Noel was already out for the season then).
Those losses will more than offset wins over Michigan State and Louisville when it comes NCAA Tournament seeding time.
National college basketball analyst Aaron Torres called the game a “major step back” for Kentucky.
“Have said since day one, if they let their guard down they can lose to anyone. I’d say giving up 56 points to South Carolina – one of the least talented teams in the SEC – would qualify as exactly that.” Torres posted on social media after the game.
So would I.
However, I also learned never to write off a Calipari team no matter how poorly it might play. I was about ready to do that after the loss to Utah, then UK came charging back and had won four straight games before losing at South Carolina.
Senior Nate Sestina, a grad transfer, has not been through the grind of a full season at Kentucky.Yet he said after tonight’s game that this team wouldn’t quit — and UK fans have to believe he’s right or at least hope so.
“I think we are a tough team. We lost two in Vegas and came back and won. I think that shows how tough we are,” Sestina said. “Just another opportunity for us to get back after it. Game over, can’t do anything about it. Outcome is what it is.”
And what it was simply was not very good.