Down two with less than a minute remaining, Kentucky needed a bucket. John Calipari had the opportunity to set up a play coming out of a timeout, putting the ball in the hands of Reed Sheppard. A lob play was called for Adou Thiero but Gonzaga was there to intercept the pass from Sheppard, retroactively ending the game.
During his postgame press conference, Calipari explained what happened in the moment, saying there was another option. Antonio Reeves was running to the top of the key, setting himself up for a three-point attempt that theoretically could have given Kentucky the lead.
“The plan was, Antonio, if that lob wasn’t there and obviously it wasn’t, was to go to the top of the key,” Calipari said. “But that didn’t lose us the game. The 18 offensive rebounds, 50 points in the paint. We thought we could guard them one on one, we probably needed to trap more.”
Gonzaga wound up only making one of the two free throws following a foul, putting them up by three. However, Mark Few decided to foul and send Reeves to the line, and while Calipari called for an intentional miss, the Bulldogs were able to secure the rebound.
An unfortunate situation for Kentucky, especially since it’s a play Calipari has run in the past. He harped on there being two options for Sheppard but Gonzaga was there to cover the lob.
“It’s a play that we’ve run in the past years where the top options are the lob or the pop-out and it was Antonio,” Calipari said. “They stole the lob. They stayed back but that didn’t cost us. I’m still disappointed with how we started the game. Come on. We’re better than that.”
As usual, one moment is discussed a lot more than overall performance. Coming through during clutch moments can make or break seasons. And even though it was a nonconference opponent in February, those are the types of games Kentucky wants to be winning while en route to the NCAA Tournament.
On the flip side, Gonzaga had to beat Kentucky to have any kind of hope of being considered for an at-large bid. St. Mary’s currently sits at the top of the WCC standings and is undefeated in conference play. Gonzaga is in danger of not winning the regular season title for the first time since 2012.
Calipari will be left to wonder what’s wrong with his team, losing a third consecutive game at Rupp Arena for the first time ever.