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Keith Taylor: Calipari wants Cats to get back to doing what’s right for team following loss to Vols

KNOXVILLE — Maybe Kentucky was looking ahead to its showdown with Kansas. Maybe the Wildcats simply didn’t heed John Calipari’s warning about how tough it was to beat Tennessee on the road.

Regardless, the Volunteers proved to be the better team Tuesday night, taking advantage of a rare mediocre performance by the Wildcats and handed fourth-ranked Kentucky its first Southeastern Conference setback of the season with an 82-80 triumph at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Malik Monk, right, consoles Isiah Briscoe, left, during the second half of a loss to Tennessee Tuesday night in Knoxville (Keith Taylor Photo)

Unlike last year when the Wildcats blew a 21-point lead and suffered an 84-77 setback to the Volunteers, Kentucky couldn’t overcome one of its poorest shooting performance of the season and several breakdowns on defense, leading to easy backdoor buckets in the post for the hosts.

“We weren’t disciplined enough,” said Kentucky freshman Bam Adebayo, who led four Wildcats in double figures with 21 points. “We broke down a lot. We didn’t talk (and) we missed some shots we should have made.”

Although most of Kentucky’s roster wasn’t around for last year’s Rocky Top implosion, Calipari’s wallk down memory lane earlier this week didn’t resonate with the Wildcats.

“We weren’t trying to listen and it cost us the game,” Adebayo said. “We felt like we were the better team than them and came up short.”

BOXSCORE: Tennessee 82, Kentucky 80

Tennessee, which had failed to beat its first five ranked opponents despite several close calls this season, had a breakthrough against a Kentucky team that has struggled on the road against Southeastern Conference foes, but played well enough to win at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State during the past two weeks.

This time, a close encounter caught up with the Wildcats. Tennessee shot 47 percent, made five timely 3-pointers and scored 42 points in the paint to beat Kentucky for the third time in the past four tries in Big Orange Country.

“When you are coaching young teams and starting four freshmen, and playing a couple of sophomores, you get this sometimes,” Calipari said. “Now we have got to go back and hopefully this grabs their attention and we get back to how do we have to play as a team to try to beat one of those teams? What we were tonight, we are not. A lot of that credit goes to Tennessee.”

An avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Calipari borrowed a quote from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to describe his team’s performance against the Volunteers.

“(Brady said) ‘doing what’s right for the team sometimes may not be right for you but that’s how you win,’” the Kentucky coach said. “You do what’s right for the team, not necessarily what’s right for you as an individual player. I am not getting through to some guys … Doing what’s right for the team isn’t always what’s right for your personally. It is an area we are going to have to work on.”

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

Calipari clearly had a hard time communicating with the Wildcats in a hostile environment and the team’s failure to execute led to poor plays down the stretch and Kentucky’s lack of composure was very evident at times. Veteran Isaiah Briscoe missed a crucial wide-open layup on a fast break in the second half and Malik Monk committed five turnovers. Back-to-back miscues by Monk and De’Aaron Fox under the three-minute mark resulted in a seven-point swing in favor of the Volunteers.

“I have done this 30 years – you cannot do this stuff that they are doing and win basketball games — you cannot do it,” Calipari said. “I do not want to call guys out but I could go right down the line, ‘Here is what I am asking you to do and you refuse to do it.’”

Although he stopped short of saying his team has developed a selfish attitude, Calipari said the performance wasn’t a common characteristic.

“Everybody who has watched this team, do you know what we usually look like? Pass, pass, pass, pass, in, out, drive, kick, go,” he said. “Want to know what everybody is doing right now? Whoever has it holds it as long as they can until they make a pass, and the pass they want to make is the ‘hero-scoring pass.’

“We are not playing how we were two weeks ago. Maybe we got arrogant. It comes back to what I am accepting as a coach and obviously, I am accepting this kind of play from young kids. I have got to do a better job and I will.”

Calipari wants the Wildcats to get back into a consistent flow on the offensive end and “make it easier for each other” and equally difficult defensively for opposing teams.

“We are doing it the opposite,” he said. “We are making it hard for us and making it easier for the other team.”

Although Calipari preferred a win rather than a loss, he said the Volunteers were more deserving of a victory.

“They deserved to win the game,” he said. “It would have been a shame if we had done something crazy and won the game or maybe he hadn’t slipped and we won the game. They had a great start and they deserved to win.”

Like any coach, Calipari admitted he hates to lose, but hopes the setback will do more good than harm.

“This is going to be a tough road ahead and it’s a tough learning thing and the good news is that it’s still January,” he said. “This isn’t college football. This is get your team right. Last year we came up here and had a big-time lead and they came back and beat us and then I think we did OK after that.”

The reboot starts Saturday against Kansas.

Gametracker: Kansas at Kentucky, Saturday 6:15 p.m. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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