Last night’s loss to Evansville is the most embarrassing of the John Calipari Era, but it’s not the only time the Cats have looked like crap early on in the season. In an attempt to cheer myself up, I opened up the archives to look back at all of the November and December losses and scares from the past decade. While most teams avoided upsets like last night’s, a few of them did not, and even Calipari’s best squads looked vulnerable at times.
Nov. 16, 2009: No. 4 Kentucky 72, Miami (Ohio) 70
Kentucky needed a last-second shot by John Wall to avoid being upset in only their second game of the season. Miami led by as many as 18 points in the first half and stayed in it thanks to 15 threes and a zone that stymied Kentucky’s guards for most of the game. John Wall wasn’t perfect in his Kentucky debut (he had to sit out the first game for accepting improper benefits from his AAU coach), but he came through in the clutch.
Nov. 24, 2010: UConn 84, No. 8 Kentucky 67
No. 8 Kentucky lost to an unranked UConn team in the championship of the Maui Invitational and it wasn’t even close. The Cats had no answer for Kemba Walker, who scored 29 points, and outside of Terrence Jones (24 points) and Darius Miller (15 points), Kentucky’s starters were a combined 6-26 from the floor.
“That was a shellacking,” John Calipari said. “We were outplayed, out-coached, out-everythinged.”
No wonder he doesn’t want to go back to Maui.
Nov. 20, 2011: No. 2 Kentucky 62, Old Dominion 52
Kentucky’s loss to Indiana in Assembly Hall is the obvious game people will point to from the national championship season, but don’t forget the Cats needed a 12-1 run to beat Old Dominion in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut a month earlier. Darius Miller played hero, coming off the bench to score 13 points and dish five assists.
“We got out of here alive somehow, and the reason we got out of alive is because Darius played,” Calipari said. “If he didn’t play, we’d probably get beat by 10 or 12.”
Dec. 1, 2012: Baylor 64, No. 8 Kentucky 55
The 2012-13 team had already lost two games at this point, but the 64-55 loss to Baylor in Rupp snapped Kentucky’s 55-game home winning streak. The Cats shot 30% from the field, 10% worse than in the 64-50 loss at Notre Dame the game prior. This will sound familiar, but the Bears just wanted it more.
“I would say it’s us not going out there and trying to beat them as bad as they want to beat us,” Archie Goodwin said.
Nov. 25, 2013: No. 3 Kentucky 68, Cleveland State 61
Cleveland State led No. 3 Kentucky by 10 with 7:41 remaining before Andrew Harrison’s three-point play gave the Cats the lead with 2:08 left. From there Aaron Harrison hit a three with 1:22 remaining to push Kentucky’s lead to a comfortable margin.
Nov. 16, 2014: No. 1 Kentucky 71, Buffalo 52
The 2014-15 team was dominant, but even they had their moments early on. In the second game of the season, Kentucky trailed Buffalo 38-33 at half before taking over in the second half and cruising to a 71-52 win. The Cats went on to clobber No. 5 Kansas 72-40 in the Champions Classic only a few days later. That was a fun day.
Nov. 30, 2015: No. 1 Kentucky 75 Illinois State 63
Illinois State was tied with Kentucky at halftime 31-31 before the Cats came back to life in the second half, holding the Redbirds to 29% shooting. Tyler Ulis sat out the game with a right elbow injury and played through the pain in Kentucky’s next game, an 87-77 loss at UCLA.
The Cats lost to UCLA 97-92 in Rupp Arena on Dec. 3, but the Bruins were ranked No. 11. The closest an unranked non-conference opponent got to the De’Aaron Fox/Malik Monk team was 23 points (Stephen F. Austin, Hofstra).
Nov. 10, 2017: No. 5 Kentucky 73, Utah Valley 63
Kentucky trailed Utah Valley by nine at halftime, missing 15 consecutive shots at one point. The second half was much better. The Cats shot 59% and outscored Mark Pope’s Wolverines 48-29 to get the ten-point win. A few days later, they struggled vs. a good Vermont team, only winning by four, 73-69.
Dec. 8, 2018: Seton Hall 84, No. 9 Kentucky 83 OT
Last year’s overtime loss to Seton Hall in the Citi Hoops Classic is still fresh on our minds, but that wasn’t the only time Kentucky struggled early on last season. After losing to Duke in the opener, Kentucky trailed Southern Illinois 44-37 in the second half before Immanuel Quickley and Quade Green sparked a run to take the lead. A few games later, Bubba Parham almost beat Kentucky single-handedly with 35 points, including 10 threes, but the Cats held on for the 92-82 win.
Should things go well this season, last night’s game will be at the top of every list like this. Fingers crossed.