BY Bill Crockett
(MANCHESTER, Ky.) — “Welcome,” said the spider to the fly. Utilizing an offensive scheme predicated upon Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril’s Princeton Offense, an experienced Richmond squad spun a tangled and frustrating web the ‘Cats simply couldn’t escape. Regardless of how hard they fought, coach John Calipari’s youthful Wildcats slowly became further entangled in the Spiders’ web as the game progressed. When the final horn sounded, tenth-ranked Kentucky suffered a humbling 76-64 loss that immediately set social media abuzz.
A players-first coach, John Calipari prominently displays his personal mantra “Coach Your Team” within the recesses of his office at the Joe Craft Center. Earlier in the week, Calipari noted Kentucky’s tough schedule and bemoaned their upcoming games. Cal’s comments drew the ire of ESPN gasbag and blatant Indiana homer Dan Dakich. Dakich went on a mini-rant during a televised game about Calipari’s constant scheduling complaints. Does Calipari really make it all about himself rather than the players? Maybe, but for good reason.
Following Kentucky’s dismal performance on Saturday, even a silent majority of UK’s cardboard cutouts wanted a refund. What happened to coaching your team? After more than thirty team practices, fans expected more and rightfully expressed concern about Calipari’s preparation on Twitter. Notably, Cal’s patented defense and dribble drive offense didn’t strike fear into the heart of 5’9” senior guard Jacob Gilyard who effortlessly racked up 6 assists and 5 steals. A nuisance throughout, Gilyard seemingly had his hands on every possession.
No one’s going to shed a tear for Kentucky after this loss. Calipari can complain about the schedule until he’s blue in the face, but he’s coaching KENTUCKY. Calipari’s earlier grumblings about games served its purpose. Better than anyone, he knows what stage of development the players have reached. Granted, fans and media alike expect the Wildcats to not only play a challenging slate of games, but to win the majority of them. That’s the pressure associated with coaching at UK. Calipari understands and genuinely thrives under that type of duress.
Do fans have a genuine beef about whether or not Calipari had the team ready? Of course they do. Numerous breakdowns on the defensive end led to easy buckets for Richmond. Offensively, the ‘Cats resembled an AAU team with a number of talented players who have never played together. Is that Calipari’s fault? Yes, and he already accepted full responsibility. He knew his team didn’t have the cohesion necessary to compete with a high caliber mid-major like Richmond. A lack of preseason tilts obviously hindered the ‘Cats’ development.
Careless turnovers (21) and ice cold shooting from beyond the arc (0-of-10) prevented any notions of a Wildcat comeback. For the game, the ‘Cats shot a pedestrian 36.1% from the field. Freshman BJ Boston and 7’0” big man Olivier Sarr both notched double-doubles in a losing effort. Boston led the Wildcats in scoring with 20 points and collected 10 rebounds. Sarr added 17 points and 11 boards. Terrence Clarke chipped in 15 points and fellow freshman Isaiah Jackson pounded the glass and grabbed 14 rebounds.
“These are all learning experiences,” Calipari said during his postgame radio show. “I knew this was going to be a tough game. I was hoping we’d play better.” What’s the best takeaway from such an ugly loss? Team chemistry jumps to the forefront, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Despite an obvious lack of unity on the floor, the ‘Cats still possess one of the most talented teams in the country. The question now becomes how long will it take Calipari to work his magic and round this team into shape? That’s still up for debate.