How Kentucky’s loss to Saint Peter’s is preparing the team for the upcoming season


St. Peter’s Peacocks guard Jaylen Murray (32) and Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) reach for a loose ball during the UK vs. Saint Peter’s mens basketball game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 17, 2022, at Gainbridge Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana. UK lost 85-79 in overtime. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Tyler Russell, Reporter

The pain and embarrassment Kentucky basketball fans and players alike felt after being eliminated by No. 15 Saint Peter’s in last season’s NCAA Tournament is far from forgotten. With a new season on the horizon, the loss continues to motivate the returning Wildcats more than ever.

Following a season with much anticipation, including a 20-plus victory over eventual national champions Kansas, the Wildcats were stunned as the Peacocks became just the tenth No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, taking down the Cats 85-79 in overtime.

Prior to the defeat, media outlets across the country raved about how the 2021-22 Wildcats had real potential to bring the ninth national title to Lexington, but instead of a late run with excitement and joy, an early exit was all Kentucky had to look forward to.

“I was worried about my guys going into a dark place, and some of them did,” head coach John Calipari said when remembering the loss. “The kids got crushed. I had to send guys home to be with (their) families.”

Following the initial shockwaves, Calipari was tasked with trying to find a way to build from the loss and not let it linger as a complete failure.

“We have a great group of guys who are great teammates that pick each other up and challenge each other, that gives you a chance,” Calipari said. “For me it was more about how do I get these guys right? You use it as fuel.”

SEC Preseason player of the year and reigning consensus national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe agreed with the sentiment.

“We let (the loss) go, but we learned from it,” Tshiebwe said. “Even if we play Division-II, for me it is a big game because of what happened to us with Saint Peter’s.”

Tshiebwe described the loss as “motivation” as he and the Cats look to once again attempt to bring home the ninth national championship in program history.

Not all players react to the loss the same though. While players like Tshiebwe used the early exit as fuel, some players like senior Jacob Toppin just want to move on.

“I am just worrying about the present and future,” Toppin said.
While Toppin isn’t dwelling on the past, he said that he does have a chip on his shoulder for the upcoming season.

“Every single coach tells you what you want to hear,” Toppin said. “Coach Cal really told us what we didn’t want to hear. ‘You are not given anything and you have to work for everything.’”

With Kentucky ready to work for what it wants, the revenge tour begins on Nov. 7 as the Cats host the Howard Bison inside Rupp Arena with all focus on redeeming the wrongs that fans witnessed less than one year ago.