John Calipari knew UNC-Wilmington could pull off the upset: "Why are we playing this game?"

On3 imageby:Zack Geoghegan12/02/23

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Kentucky should have beaten UNC-Wilmington on Saturday night. Full stop. The No. 12 Wildcats were coming off a dominating win over the No. 8 Miami Hurricanes earlier this week. UNC-Wilmington is a good team, but there’s a reason Kentucky was a nearly 18-point favorite going into Saturday’s matchup, especially with the game being played at Rupp Arena.

UK was expected to win and it’s a disappointment that they didn’t. Again, full stop. But UNC-Wilmington should receive some praise too. The Seahawks more than earned the victory.

“They deserved to win the game. They did,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said postgame. “I would have liked to have tried to steal the game from them, but they deserved to win it. They played well, they shot well. They have 12 turnovers. We had more turnovers than they did. We had eight at halftime — or nine… And they were all because we were trying to make the hardest possible play instead of just easy plays. We got stuff to learn. This is all part of it. You win and you learn. This was learned. We gotta guard the ball better.”

UNC-Wilmington deserves all the credit for coming in and beating up on Kentucky. Yes, the Wildcats were without starting point guard DJ Wagner and were incorporating 7-foot-1 center Aaron Bradshaw into the mix for the first time all season. But the Seahawks led from nearly start to finish. They simply outhustled and outsmarted a more talented Kentucky team. UNC-Wilmington played with more energy and it was clear to anyone who watched.

Considering the Seahawks were projected to finish 2nd in the Colonial Athletic Association ahead of the season, maybe Kentucky should have been more prepared for a tough game against a possible NCAA Tournament opponent. Calipari says he tried to get that message across before the game.

“But again, that’s a good team,” Calipari added. “You know, I’ve got to give it to them. And I knew it. I told them prior to the game after watching the tape, I’m like, why are we playing this game?”

Calipari compared this game to one that Kentucky won earlier this season against Saint Joseph’s, which the ‘Cats needed overtime to pull out the close dub. Only in that game, Kentucky made enough shots to win.

Against UNC-Wilmington, UK shot a season-low 29.4 percent (5-17) from long range. Just five days ago against the Miami Hurricanes, Kentucky shot a season-high 59.3 percent (16-27) deep. As easily as Kentucky can beat a top 10 team in the country, they can just as easily lose to one ranked outside of the KenPom top 100.

“But that’s part of what this team will go through,” Calipari said. “Now, you guys know we can play with anybody in the country, and we can lose to anybody in the country. And we’ll play the right way. We get better defensively. We rebound. We’ll be fine.”

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2024-03-02