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Lot of blame for loss but bottom line for Kenny Payne was that Vols just played, competed harder

Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne says Nick Richards (4) was a “non-compete” in the loss to Tennessee. (Vicky Graff Photo)


Let’s blame Joe Lunardi.

The ESPN bracketologist moved Kentucky to a projected No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and obviously the Cats wanted no part of that.

Or maybe blame Tennessee coach Rick Barnes for suggesting Monday that the two best teams in the country were No. 1 Kansas and Kentucky.

Or maybe, just maybe, blame Kentucky for a dismal lack of effort most of the second half after building a 17-point lead and thinking it could just cost to a win over Tennessee.

Instead, the Cats collapsed and lost 81-73 to the same team they beat in Knoxville last month.
Kentucky went 9-for-27 from the field the second half and scored 31 points but gave up FIFTY POINTS to the Vols. The Cats made Tennessee center John Fulkerson look like a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick as he had a career-high 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting along with six rebounds and two assists. More importantly, he just outworked and outhustled the Cats.

“What do you say about that? He played his butt off. He had a great game,” Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne said on the UK Radio Network.

He was right — and he didn’t mince words about UK’s lack of effort. He pointed to Tennessee hitting 52.8 percent from the field — only the third time a team has shot 50 percent or better against UK this year — and 44 percent from 3-point range as a recipe for disaster.

But Payne didn’t hide this loss was about more than numbers.

“They competed better than us. Hopefully this is a wake-u call. Lot of the guys on the court that got outplayed,” Payne said. “One thing here at Kentucky is that every game is a war. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. Tennessee a really good team and just as good as anybody in this league.”

So what could Kentucky have done better?

“Competed, fight. This game has a lot to do with confidence and mentality, not just technique,” Payne said.

The UK assistant talked about “not competing” and taking too much for granted and not matching Tennessee’s effort.

“That’s what happened on our home court,” Payne said.

Many UK fans wondered why center Nick Richards, who drew 10 fouls, got just five shots. But Payne would have no part of saying Richards should have got the ball more.

“He is one of those non-competes tonight for me,” Payne said. “Did not post hard enough, let guys beat him to spots. Just didn’t compete. Little disappointed because that’s what we have to hang our hat on and we didn’t.”

Don’t think Payne was blaming Richards solely for UK’s eight-game wining streak coming to an end. There was plenty of blame to go around. Immanuel Quickley was 5-for-16 from the field and had four turnovers. Ashton Hagans got in foul trouble and had three turnovers and just one rebound. EJ Montgomery had just two points. Tryese Maxey had 21 points but failed to block out at times and didn’t have a rebound.

So what does Payne hopes the Cats learned from this defeat in the next to last regular-season game?

“First of all I think the biggest thing is you don’t have to play great but you have to fight. From the time that whistle starts to the time it ends you have to fight,” Payne said. “A lot of times we put so much emphasis on strategy. You win and lose off your will to win, your fight, your determination and guys playing together for one common goal and that’s to win.”

And the last 15 minutes of this game, Kentucky didn’t have any of that.


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  1. I agree 100%. This team had no fight in the second half. Embarrassing to lose to TN. Looks like we are now going from a 2 seed to a 4. Hope there is more fight at Florida. I was worried about a let down after clinching the SEC regular season title. No excuse for this loss other than lack of effort. Why did it have to be to Rocky Flop? Hope it was a lesson learned for the rest of the year. GO CATS!!!

  2. Our guards continue to take the majority of shots with Coach’s blessing. They don’t even pretend to think about making a post pass. Nick has faded out of the SEC player of the year conversation. It makes me wonder if he thinks, why should I bust my ass for a coach who won’t take advantage of my talents.
    We were on the verge of being a national title contender. Now we look like a team that will lose our tourney and be sent home on the first weekend of the Dance. Coach seemed content to let go of the rope himself tonight. What has happened to this team?

    1. N33, I agree completely. Nick is one of the 2 best players, night in night out, on this team, yet he seldom gets to show his ability. There is absolutely no wonder other bigs are hesitant to play for Cal.
      As a whole, this team is lazy. When they get a lead, they go on cruise control. They think they can turn it on and off at will, but are not willing to “fight” when it gets tough. There is no fight for playing time, so why learn to fight???
      Last night, this team was up by 15, and with around 6-7 minutes to go, they were leading in rebounding, held UT to 5 offensive rebounds and only had 7 turnovers.
      Kick on the cruise; UT gets 6 offensive rebounds, and UK turns it over 7 more times.
      Nick is one of the best fighters on the team, but you have to have something to fight for. Watching the guards jack up 41 shots, while only making 17, and never looking to go inside is not a way to build an inside game.
      Cal talks about how great Nick and EJ are coming along, yet they only get 9 shots between them in a game where the definite advantage was inside.
      You cannot control your players when there is no risk of losing playing time. Cal has found himself in this position several times over the years and the outcome is always the same. Lack of effort, lack of fight.

  3. One game doesn’t define what this team has accomplished. Yes there was lack of effort in the second half again there just 18-19 old kids I would putly most of the fault on Cal.

  4. No, one game does not define a team, but the season long body of work defines the team. This is a top 30 team, not a top 10 team.

    1. Professor, when you are right, you’re right.

  5. At the end of the game, Nick had words for Ashton and its about time. Ashton is more worried about where he thinks he is going to be drafted than about us winning. Tyrese, Immanuel, and Johnny are just as guilty. No post passes, no alley oops…they are not even looking for them. Our guards stopped rebounding and that led to us being out rebounded by 5. We only had 9 assists…again more one on one play. Now we go play in the Swamp. Florida almost beat us in Rupp, you would have thought that would have been our wake up call. The selfish play of our guards has created a rift with Nick. EJ and Nate are just happy to be here. Now is not the time to have a chemistry crisis. I am not sure that Coach can get this under control. Players, past and present, have learned that his bark is a lot worse than his bite. Old Fan nailed it.

  6. I disagree with Payne’s assessment of Nick. Nick was the only guy trying to fight, but he can’t do it all. Fulkerson was on some kind of drug, he scored on everyone. The one thing I have noticed about Nick is how many rebounds he is losing AFTER he has both hands on the ball. LSU and now TN have exploited this. They are not going after the rebound, they are going after the ball after we get the rebound. Nick’s upper body strength, or lack of it, is being exposed. This is the main reason Nick should come back next year and get stronger. My guess is Nick is tired of being on a team where the guards go wild and don’t play team ball.

  7. This team has a post player that can get the job done on the inside, AND that player is the most efficient offensive player on this team. Despite his productivity, he only gets a much smaller percentage of the scoring opportunities, while the perimeter players are using the overwhelming majority of possessions at much lower efficiency. This team’s offensive efficiency would improve significantly if the coaches insisted on an inside first then out type of game instead of the way this team plays. Either the coach is not directing this type of play or the perimeter players are not doing what the coaches are wanting. Either way it is a coaching issue .

    Nate Sestina is more efficient than these guards, and he gets even fewer possessions to try to score. The offense has been turned on its head.

    This team needs to give most of the possessions to Richards, Sestina and Montgomery, and fewer to Hagans and Maxey.

  8. To answer the article on a second point, we didn’t get much coaching either. Rick Barnes owns our coach and Pearl isn’t far behind. White may take another step closer to that status on Saturday and Frank Martin is not far behind him. We pay big bucks to have the best coach in the country. We may not even have the best coach in our conference…or the 2nd best, or even the 3rd best?

  9. It’s funny Professor and 33 the only time you guys got to say something about the cats is when they lose and do your crying rant. It is what it is they just didn’t play that second half give credit to Tenn and move on. Go Cats!!!Not end of the world!

    1. KY losing to TN anytime is a big deal. Losing to TN in Rupp arena is a much bigger deal. Losing to them on Senior Night after we just played our way into a possible No. 1 seed in the tournament just can’t happen, not when we have a 17 point lead with 15 minutes left. Its not the end of the world, but its a horrible loss. You obviously don’t bleed blue. Your nonchalant attitude that winning or losing doesn’t matter, because this is just a game. At Kentucky, its more than just a game…its a way of life.

    2. I think Professor has been very consistent with his feeling all year that this UK team had some issues and has never really deviated from his belief — even during UK’s win streak. Professor looks normally at the big picture, not just one game

      1. Yeah it was a tough loss, and should not have happened, but it did. Fulkerson went off for 27 is what killed the Cats, none of our boys could stop him on that night. and UT made shots that have not been falling for them this year. But yes, let’s look at the “BIG PICTURE.” UK is still the regular season SEC Champ. One on this site under a different name said that wouldn’t happen. UT sits at 17-13 overall and 9-8 in SEC play. Which one would you rather be right now, UK or UT, and where is UT headed post season? UK is a No. 1 seed in the SEC tourney, and just maybe this loss will get them focused for the road ahead. UK is still a dangerous team. Let’s take a deep breath and let the season play out. I never write Kentucky off like two on this site have. UK always seems to struggle with Tennessee every year, even if they were to compete in “tiddly winks.” That has been going on for years, so what’s new. UK beat em in Knoxville by golly, AMEN!!!

  10. That is simply not the case at all. I am an equal opportunity complainer, and have expressed my views openly and consistently whether this team has lost or won, and over the years about this insane “players first” philosophy that places the program down the list of priorities, if it is on his priority list at all.

    This is a top 30 team, not a top 10 team. This team is more likely to exit in the first round than survive to the Elite 8. This is a second round quality team, and the Sweet 16 is its ceiling regardless of the seeding that the gurus at the NCAA grace Calipari’s team with this season.

    BTW, I am still waiting for you to tell me what facts I get wrong. Accusations come easy. Delivery of evidence is the hard part.

  11. Larry Vaught I agree with your statement the thing is he doesn’t have to downgrade Cal and the players there just human like we are. This team does have issues and we just going to have live with until the season is over. Go Cats!!

    1. Still waiting.

      What facts did I get wrong? That is what You Said.

  12. In sports you gonna win some and lose some. If you can’t take the losing part then you don’t need to watch sports. There’s always a next game or next season to cheer on your favorite team regardless. Just gotta move on regardless what happens it won’t be the first or last. GO CATS!!

  13. Huh?

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