LEXINGTON — University of Kentucky coach John Calipari admitted his Wildcats were “rattled’’ coming off two embarrassing losses, including a humiliating 72-67 decision Saturday at South Carolina, and that played a role in Kentucky’s sluggish 55-48 win Tuesday night over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
“We’re still not all the way back,” Calipari said, stating the obvious after his 25th-ranked team improved to 22-8 overall and 12-5 in Southeastern Conference play. “Guys were really tentative. James Young was 1-for-11 (shooting). Aaron (Harrison) was 1-for-6 from the three. We passed on open looks.
“Look, this is a young team,’’ he added, yet again. “They got a little rattled. An overtime loss (vs. Arkansas last Thursday at Rupp) ... go to South Carolina, had what happened there. They’re a little rattled, but they’re fine. They’re fine. They’re having a ball.”
A few minutes later, a reporter called out Calipari, suggesting that the Wildcats don’t look like they’re “having a ball.”
“Let me say this,” Calipari replied. “You remember when John Wall came in and said, ‘I’m not having any fun.’ It really got rough. He wasn’t playing as well. They (opponents) were playing a way to make the game rougher for him.
“That’s part of being here,” he added. “Then it’s highlighted here because of all the glow, the other stuff, a hundred cameras ... all that.”
Calipari picked up momentum at that point in Tuesday’s post-game press conference, which he graciously attended, as opposed to Saturday at South Carolina when he skipped the usual post-game presser and drew fire from many, both local and national.
Is he leaving?
As part of that fallout, rumors spread that Calipari was burned out and not only would resign his coaching post at Kentucky, but it would be sooner rather than later.
Cal addressed all of this Tuesday night in a speech that was far more entertaining, you might gather, than the forgettable basketball game his team just played against Alabama’s Crimson Tide (12-18, 6-11).
“You know and I know we just needed a win,” Calipari said of the game. “Didn’t matter the score. Could have been a half-court bank shot.”
But, enough of that pesky game detail. Back to the good stuff.
Calipari said he has no plans to coach anywhere but Kentucky anytime soon.
“There’s no better place to coach or play than here,” Calipari said, sounding sincere. “I keep telling them (his players), ‘You have to have more fun than the other team. You have to.’ If we lose — I’ve said this for five years — I will take responsibility. If they win, they get the glory. So play. If we had lost today, I was going to say it was me again.”
On a related note, Calipari admitted, when asked, about a hip that has clearly been bothering him.
“And I don’t take aspirin, drugs, nothing,” he said. “Never smoked. I’m ridiculous. But I took four straight days of pain pills so I could sleep, and then I said, ‘I’m not doing it (anymore).’ I stopped.
“Look, I’m old. I used to be young. I’m old. I’m going to have to have my hip replaced. But, I’ve got no excuse. I’m just a mean guy.”
At that, Calipari feigned intense laughter, prompting a reporter to ask him if he was currently on pain medication. He’s been accused this season of being too hard on his players and on officials, capped by Saturday’s ejection from the South Carolina game after he picked up his second technical foul with some 10 minutes to go.
Calipari responded to that misery by not coming out for the routine post-game press conference, starting a firestorm, including the rumors of a pending demise here.
Calipari claims he doesn’t listen to the noise, so to speak, but he did admit he went into his office Monday and his secretary asked him: ‘Are you not coming back next year?’
“She said it was on Around the Horn, First Take, and they’re doing a 30-for-30 movie on it,” said a clearly bemused Calipari. “Really? Then Dan Patrick talked about it. Andy Katz already has my replacement. Because I DIDN’T DO A POST-GAME interview? Wow. We’re not the most over-analyzed program in the country. I was wrong when I said that.”
Calipari rolled his eyes, again, and then explained his post-game absence at USC.
“I didn’t have anything to say,” he said. “Couldn’t talk about the officials, and I couldn’t talk about the last 10 minutes. I wasn’t there. I didn’t do it. All of a sudden it’s like people are going nuts, losing their minds.”
So, another reporter asked, “You ARE coming back?”
“I HOPE,” Calipari said with mock exasperation. “If I get through the hip surgery.”
For most of the Alabama game, the Wildcats played like they all need hip surgery. Kentucky shot 32.7 percent from the field on 16 of 49. The Wildcats were just 6 of 25 from the field in the first half. Julius Randle had two of those baskets, and Aaron Harrison, Jarrod Polson, Jon Hood and Dakari Johnson hit the other four. The few, the proud.
The Wildcats showed brief signs of life in the second half, long enough to win.
It was nice to see them go out winners on Senior Night, with guard Polson and forward Hood being honored pre-game.
Polson played 19 minutes and had three points and three rebounds, while Hood played six minutes and had three points.
“They’re two of the most loved players, maybe other than Darius (Miller) that I’ve coached here,” Calipari said of Hood and Polson. “They’re both going to have great careers because of what they’ve done here. They both have grown as young men.”
Asked of his emotions, Polson said: “Just how blessed I am to be a part of this.”
Randle led UK with 12 points and 11 rebounds as the Wildcats out-rebounded the Crimson Tide 41-27.
Kentucky closes the regular season Saturday at No. 1-ranked Florida, at noon on CBS, though Calipari said he hasn’t thought about that one.
“I’m trying to figure out if I’m coming back next year or not,” Calipari said, breaking out in laughter. Again.
To see more photos from this game, click here.