In the wake of one of the most lopsided defeats in his coaching career, John Calipari set out to pick up the pieces with a more positive tone on Monday.
During his segment on the weekly Southeastern Conference Coaches Teleconference, Calipari took another step back from comments he made during and following Saturday’s 88-58 loss to Tennessee when he suggested some of the Wildcats were “uncoachable.”
“During a game, on the bench, there are a lot of things I say if a guy is not listening, is not playing rough enough, isn’t coming up with 50/50 balls,” Calipari said. “There’s a lot of things I say.
“But this team is a team that (is) a bunch of good guys, they want to do well, (but) some of this stuff is overwhelming. We just lost our best player, and why a guy wouldn’t listen or why he’s going out and not doing what we’re asking him to do, we’re just trying to say, ‘Hey man, just listen to what we’re saying. You can’t play the way you’re playing.’
“But like I said, we have a good group of kids. We’re very young. This is new. We’re treading new water. It wasn’t like a postgame tirade. That wasn’t what it was. It was during the game. Guys gotta listen better.”
Calipari said he wasn’t surprised the Cats took one on the chin after losing star center Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday night at Florida.
“We just lost our best player with six or seven games to go, now we have to go on the road an inspired Tennessee team who played great, as good as any team we’ve played this year,” he said. “They play great, we’re trying to figure out who we are, and it becomes what it becomes there.”
With a pair of home games looming this week against Vanderbilt on Wednesday and Missouri on Saturday, Calipari wants his Wildcats (17-8, 8-4 SEC) looking forward and not dwelling on taking a beating in Knoxville.
“It’s one game,” Calipari said. “I told them after the game, I’ve had teams get beat up like this. What I want to see is how you respond, how you come back. That’s a measure of who you are. It’s not that this doesn’t happen occasionally. I think Ohio State just got smashed by (Wisconsin)."
In a wildly unpredictable year for college basketball, each team in the latest Top 10 with the exception Indiana, Kansas and Louisville have suffered at least one double-digit loss. No. 2 Miami lost by 19 to Arizona. No. 5 Florida lost by 21 at Arkansas. No. 6 Duke lost by 27 to Miami. No. 7 Michigan was handed a 23-point loss by Michigan State.
"It’s about your response," Calipari said. "Do you take responsibility for how you’re playing and how we have to play.”
The UK boss stopped short of saying what changes in lineup or strategy may be forthcoming, but noted that the staff has come to the realization that it cannot play the same defensively without Noel’s shot-blocking presence. Tennessee shot 58 percent against a UK and scored 40 points in the paint. Kentucky entered the game allowing opponents to shoot only 38 percent from the field.
“It’s obvious without Nerlens, we’re a little different,” Calipari said. “Doesn’t mean we’re 40 points different, but we’re a little different. We’re going to have to play stronger. We’re going to have to cover for each other a little more… You can’t just let people shoot layups, which is what happened the last game.”