Kentucky lost its seventh game of the season tonight, falling to Gonzaga 89-85. It was the Cats’ third straight loss in Rupp Arena, a first in the building’s history. With four losses in the past six outings and a very tough final month of the regular season, the mood is not great in Big Blue Nation. In his postgame remarks, Calipari acknowledged as much, thanking fans for doing their part while his team came up short.
“I want to tell our fans how much I appreciate what they are doing for this team or what they are trying to do,” Calipari told reporters. “They are here. They are loud. When we needed them, they stood up. This team needs it. I would just say stick with them. I appreciate the fans and, you know, you walk into this building and it’s packed like it has been for three games. We just normally come out like on ﬁre and we just haven’t.”
Calipari, who drew criticism for not doing his postgame radio segment with Tom Leach following the loss to Tennessee, did come out to speak with Leach and the fans in the stands tonight. On his 65th birthday, he sounded as dejected as he has all season.
“We’re struggling some to get over the hump. We come back and we’re close to a team and then all of a sudden, we’re just not able to get over the hump so I gotta keep working with them. We got to be better in our post defense, and that’s stuff we’ve got to work on.”
“I hope they just attack me. Leave you alone, attack me”
Calipari referenced the 2013-14 team that lost seven of its final regular-season games and went on an incredible March run to make the national championship game as a reason fans shouldn’t give up quite yet — while admitting that his team is currently giving them “every reason to be discouraged.”
“I can remember the year we lost four of seven to finish the year out and the fans stuck with us and we came and fought and all of a sudden we’re in the championship game. We’ve got stuff we’ve gotta get done. But again, this is still a good group. We’re giving you every reason to be discouraged. Just don’t. Just keep being with these kids.”
A quick glance at social media suggests most are doing this already, but Calipari said to aim your anger at him, not the players.
“Like I said, I’m not I’m just disappointed; I hate to lose. I hate to lose for the fans and the team. Hopefully, I win many more games than I lose but there are going to be times when there are things that I could have done. But here’s what I would say: stay with these kids. Stay right with them. Let them know.
“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. Leave you alone, attack me. I’m the guy here, the grown man in the bunch.”
Calipari said from here, he will hold individual meetings with his players to gauge the mood and regroup. On Tuesday, Kentucky hosts Ole Miss, and on Saturday, they play at No. 12 Auburn. Even though the Tigers lost at Florida today by double digits, that arena will be rocking in hopes of sending Kentucky home with a loss. Chris Beard will also have the Rebels ready to extend Kentucky’s Rupp Arena losing streak to four on Tuesday. Calipari knows as much.
“To go through what these kids are going through at their age is not easy,” Calipari said. “And you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. It’s Kentucky. And if they see that you’re wounded, they’re even more excited because they got a chance to beat you. So, we’re gonna have to deal.
“But being able to get through this will prepare them for the rest of their basketball career and their life. The sun comes up tomorrow and now we’ve got to get better and we’ve got to change it. And then when you go down that road, you start kicking it in and all of a sudden, you go on a run, you have a different feeling and you know, wow, how did I go through all that and survive?”
Those quotes may read short-term, but I’m getting long-term vibes after that performance.