Kentucky lost in difficult fashion on Saturday, coming back from a 10-point deficit only to fall back and lose, 89-85, to Gonzaga at home. And freshman guard Rob Dillingham, who’s been averaging 30.5 minutes and 22.5 points per game across the last four contests, barely played in the second half.
Head coach John Calipari had his reason for this, namely that the lineup on the floor — which didn’t feature Dillingham — was playing well. A grouping of of Reed Sheppard, Antonio Reeves, Adou Thiero, Justin Edwards plus a big man had dragged Kentucky out of a hole, and Calipari was content to see if they couldn’t get it across the finish line.
“The team that was out there was playing so well together that I left it alone,” Calipari said. “And I told he and DJ [Wagner], that’s the only reason I left it alone. And if we ﬁnish the game — you would have said, ‘But’ — now you look at it and say ‘Why didn’t you have him in?’ You’re right. We could have. But that group was playing so well that I didn’t go to the rotation.”
Dillingham had been slow to heat up in the first half after a recent hot stretch. He’s scored 16, 20, 35 and 20 points in his last four outing, respectively. On Saturday, he had just six points during 14 first half minutes.
And Calipari sought to make a point that the issue for Kentucky on Saturday wasn’t a lack of scoring — which Dillingham may have boosted — but a failure to hold up defensively.
“I know one of the questions will be well you didn’t sub as much,” Calipari said. “Well, they got on a roll. I just wanted them to see how much they could play it out. Which meant didn’t play Robert much, didn’t play DJ much, probably could have easily gone with Robert and let him see if he can make a basket or two. But our issue was what was happening on defense.”
As for any fans frustrated by the loss, a third-straight at home — a first for Rupp Arena — Calipari has a simple message: Be mad at him, not the players.
“You know you’re going to have some of the negative Nellies out there attacking and that’s fine. I told them the other day I hope they just attack me and leave you alone,” Calipari said after an 89-85 loss to Gonzaga, according to KSR’s Tyler Thompson.
The Wildcats are now 16-7 on the season, and though an NCAA Tournament berth is in no immediate danger, Kentucky can’t afford to let this skid linger. But even just losing three out of the last four is enough for Calipari to know fans will be ready to lash out. He just hopes it’s not against the players.