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Cats play with heavy hearts, stumble down stretch to Notre Dame

Irish players celebrate upset victory over Wildcats. Photo Credit Robert Franklin, freelancer, FR17139 AP

SOUTH BEND (KT) — The last thing on John Calipari’s mind was basketball.

The Kentucky coach spent most of the day Saturday pouring through images and television coverage of a devastating tornado that tore through the Bluegrass, especially the western part of the state in the early morning hours. Calipari spent time at the Grotto in South Bend to pray for “everyone affected” by the rare December twisters that left the state in complete shock.

Prior to a 66-62 loss to Notre Dame, the hosts held a moment of silence for the families and victims of the tornado outbreak, considered one of the worse tornado outbreaks in state history.  Download PDF

“The Commonwealth (of Kentucky) really was dealt an unbelievable blow that is going to take decades to fix with (those tornadoes) that came through — the deaths, the destruction and you see pictures,” he said. “Our team knew about it (and) we were tracking it. … we talked about it after the game. We play basketball, but (there was) someone losing their mother, working in a warehouse, working for Amazon, and all of the sudden this happens.”

In an effort to help ease the burden on the victims and their families, Calipari is planning a telethon for Tuesday and said the Wildcats will be “very engaged in this.”

“(Our) prayers, thoughts (are with them),” he said. “People lost houses — you walk in and your house is gone. People were inside the houses huddled in the basement, corner and the house gets torn apart and they are lucky enough to be living and some didn’t obviously. It kind of puts things (in perspective) and makes you think.”

On the court, the Wildcats fell apart down the stretch and suffered a second straight loss to Notre Dame, which entered the contest with a three-game losing streak. The Irish (4-4) edged Kentucky 64-63 last season in Lexington and made it difficult on the Wildcats from start to finish in South Bend. 

Kentucky (7-2) never led by more than five points and struggled to match Notre Dame’s intensity and it showed down the stretch.

“We weren’t playing well, but I was happy that we were fighting,” Calipari said. “And then we hit that stretch (in the second half) where we played not to lose … I believe that’s what it is. I’m coaching to win the whole game to win. Until the horn blows then I know we lost.”

Although Oscar Tshiebwe led the Wildcats with a career-high 25 points followed by Fort Wayne native Keion Brooks with 12, Kentucky wasn’t successful from long range. The Wildcats made just two shots on 19 attempts from the 3-point line. Calipari hopes his team’s shooting performance was a fluke and added lapses on defense played a role in his team’s downfall.

“We lost the game because, in the last eight minutes, I just kept telling them, ‘stick with defensive discipline and you’ll win the game,’” Calipari said. “When you’re shooting 2-19 (from the three) you can’t afford to do that too. That’s what happened.”

Kentucky missed its first 12 shots from behind the perimeter until Kellan Grady made the team’s first trey at the 13:27 mark of the second half. Grady made another three that gave the Wildcats a 62-61 advantage with 1:43 but his next trey rimmed out, while Tshiebwe couldn’t get a layup to fall in the lane and TyTy Washington missed a potential game-tying layup. The Irish scored four points in a span of 30 seconds to hand Kentucky a crushing blow.

Despite the letdown Calipari isn’t worried.

“I’ve got a lot of faith in this group,” he said. “You’ve got to give Notre Dame credit for us playing the way we played (and) our guard play was not good. … This team is different than any team I’ve coached.”

Gametracker: Kentucky vs. Ohio State, 5:15 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas. TV/Radio: CBS, UK Radio Network.

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Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor is an award-winning journalist who has covered Kentucky athletics since 1995. He is the sports editor of Kentucky Today and his work appears in 12 daily newspapers as well as various weekly and web sites throughout the state. Reach him at Keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor 21.

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