Loss to UCLA an unsurprising bump in the road for UK


Kentucky freshman guard Quade Green guards UCLA junior guard Aaron Holiday during the CBS Sports Classic game on Saturday, December 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Kentucky was defeated 83-75. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Chris Leach

The last time the Kentucky basketball team left New Orleans in 2012, the Cats left with a win and the best feeling any college basketball player could ever dream of. 

Fast forward four-and-a-half years and the Cats are leaving New Orleans with a totally opposite feeling as they lost their second game of the season, their first to an unranked opponent. 

Recap: UCLA upsets UK 83-75

Many fans showed signs of worry after the Cats were beaten by the unranked UCLA Bruins, but for head coach John Calipari, this loss is part of the road he expected with this young team. 

“As much as you hate to say it, you got to get knocked in the mouth and lose and it’s going to hurt every player,” Calipari said after the loss.

The loss will likely send Kentucky out of the top 10 after being ranked there all season. The upcoming schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Cats as they’ll welcome Louisville to Rupp Arena on Dec. 29 before starting SEC play two days later.

“Hopefully we bounce back from this but again – I told them the next four games we play, ‘You could lose every one,’” Calipari said. “If you don’t play with the will to win, if you don’t come up with balls – and even if you do, you could still get beat by the teams we got to play.”

The biggest thing that hurt the Cats in New Orleans was the inability to slow down UCLA’s three-point shot. The Bruins made 40 percent of their deep shots, knocking down 12 of 30 attempts.

That was tied for the most threes Kentucky has given up to an opponent all season.

“They shot the ball really well today, hats off to them for that,” said Wenyen Gabriel, who knocked down three threes of his own. “Obviously we got to learn from that and get out to shooters when they’re shooting threes.”

Teams have been shooting lots of threes against UK all season, as this was the eighth time this season that an opponent has taken at least 25 three-point attempts in a game.

Knowing that teams like to shoot threes against Kentucky, Calipari tried a different type of pick-and-roll defense, but it didn’t work against the Bruins. Calipari said he learned his lesson post game, saying he can’t do too many things at a time, otherwise it could overwhelm the young team.

“They’re not ready for that, they could play one way or two ways then if it doesn’t work, then stop,” Calipari said.

Despite the disappointment, Calipari isn’t threatening to hit the panic button like he did earlier in the season. He expected losses like this to happen with his young team, and is more pleased with the progress his team has made as the tougher part of the schedule approaches.

“They’re so much better than they were a month ago,” Calipari said. “Today we played a team that wanted the game worse than we wanted, and this is usually what happens.”