LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Perhaps no post-game comment from a coach caught Larry Vaught more by surprise than last night’s remark from John Calipari.
“When he used the word, ‘discouraged.’ I think we’ve heard him say frustrated before, but I don’t think we’ve heard him say discouraged. That’s something he would not usually say,” Vaught said.
Vaught, who has been covering UK athletics for 45 years, has heard Calipari say a lot over the years.
Following last night’s loss to Georgia, the Wildcats were left with a record of 4-9, (3-3 SEC). If the trend continues, the program will suffer through just its third losing season since 1927, which was Basil Hayden’s only year as head coach. It'll also be the first sub .500 season since Eddie Sutton’s last year in Lexington in 1989.
“To have a winning record when the season ends, they’ve got to go 10-3 over the last thirteen games,” Vaught noted, while not sounding very confident they can pull that off.
“If you think they can do that, I’d like some of what you’re drinking that’s making you so optimistic,” he joked. (For the record, I was only drinking water!)
So what’s the issue with this team?
“Outside shooting is obviously a huge issue. Turnovers are a huge issue. Point guard play has been really inconsistent, and I also think it’s just a lack of physical play,” Vaught said of what is ailing this team.
It also doesn’t help that Calipari is having to navigate this team through a pandemic-riddled season. Sure, he’s not alone as his peers are doing the same, but Calipari’s forte is molding individuals into a team over the course of a long season and this season has been shortened due to COVID-19. That’s probably why everyone from callers to local talk radio stations, to Vaught are willing to give Calipari a pass on this season.
“I don’t think you throw him out for one season with what he’s done on the past,” Vaught said, before adding that Calipari is going to have to adapt, and possibly alter how he runs his program going forward.
“Maybe he’s going to have to play some zone defense. Maybe he’ll have to recruit some more shooters. Maybe he’ll have to change his offensive sets from time to time. He’ll learn from this. The great coaches always do. If he doesn’t learn from it then this will become more common,” said Vaught.
Vaught also cautioned against this team leaning on the SEC tournament and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that goes to the winner. Given the continued spread of the virus, the NCAA might opt to forgo those conference tournaments this year just to get everyone to Indiana for the real thing, safely
Missing the NCAA tournament wouldn’t be the shock; they’ve done that before with teams that have had better records. But finishing below .500 is not an experience with which fans here are very acquainted.
“I think it’s not just the losing, but it’s the way they are losing,” Vaught added.