Woods’ comments from November ringing true after loss at Tennessee
“They didn’t seem like Kentucky basketball players to me… And I’ll leave it at that. I’m a Kentucky basketball player through and through, and there’s just a certain aura about you.
“These kids nowadays are just so different… There’s just a certain way and a certain look Kentucky basketball players should have, and not have such a sense of entitlement. I think today, it’s still an honor to wear that uniform.” – former UK player and current Morehead State coach Sean Woods, Nov. 19, 2012
It caused an uproar in the Big Blue Nation back in November, when Woods made the comments following his participation in a telethon in Lexington. He quickly backpedaled from the remarks while speaking to the media both before and after the Wildcats’ game with the Eagles in Rupp Arena. He concluded by saying he didn’t want to discuss the incident, ever again.
And yet, his comments now are ringing in the ears of UK fans who watched Tennessee completely annihilate a Kentucky team that was (supposedly) bent on trying to convince the NCAA selections committee, if not themselves, that they’re a tournament team.
Right now, the Cats will be lucky if they can find their way back to the proverbial bubble.
Full disclosure: I’m currently in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with the UK baseball team. I watched the first half on TV, went to the ballpark in time to hear that Saturday’s game had been snowed out, and returned in time to catch the closing minutes. Embarrassing.
If this is the kind of heart, fire, passion this team musters in the wake of the loss of its lone warrior, Nerlens Noel, it begs the question: How do ANY of these guys think they’re going to survive in the NBA?
“It’s a huge loss with Nerlens, but that’s no excuse,” Kyle Wiltjer told Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal. “We’ve got plenty of capable guys. We’ve got to bring it.”
Wiltjer, to Matt May of the Cats’ Pause: “We didn’t come out with any fire or energy. (Not having Noel) is no excuse.”
The Twitter-verse roared as the UT official scorer screwed up the opening jump ball/possession arrow, which eventually led to the ejection of Kentucky assistant coach John Robic. Referee Doug Shows and John Calipari clearly don’t like one another and it affects how each of them does their respective jobs when they’re involved in the same game.
But officiating is not what led to UK’s destruction Saturday.
Calipari told the assembled media in Knoxville after the game that Friday’s practice was the worst in four years. Some of that is on the UK coach, but from the looks of this game, some of his players aren’t too interested in the joy that comes from sharing a team experience, something their coach is desperately trying to get them to embrace.
“We’ve got a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable,” he said. Not only has he been incapable of reaching them, but they didn’t respond to the fire in Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday, either. When Robic was ejected, Calipari said he hoped it might light a fire under his Wildcats. Instead, they fizzled.
“You hope it’s in there,” he said. “And I believe it is. But right now, they’re not showing that.”
The “it” to which is refers is toughness. One encompassing stat is rebounds, where the Volunteers crushed the visitors, 39-21. Tennessee snatched 15 offensive rebounds; Kentucky had just nine defensive rebounds. UT scored 40 points in the paint, where it’s physical, to just 22 for UK.
Archie Goodwin (seven points of 2-of-9 shooting) appeared ready to fight in the closing minutes. Perhaps that will translate to his game.
Alex Poythress, at a time his team needed him the most, responded with another shadowy effort (four points, two rebounds, five fouls).
Ryan Harrow wasn’t shadowy. He was invisible (zero points, zero assists, five fouls – he disappeared).
Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays gave it what they had, but with nothing happening in the low post, it’s difficult for spot-up shooters to find room to operate on the perimeter. Wiltjer could get only a couple of shots to fall near the basket.
Willie Cauley-Stein (two points, two rebounds, five fouls, one tossed mouthpiece) seems willing to play with passion; he just doesn’t have the game for it yet. Defensively, he’s a presence, but his offense will take time to develop, probably more than Kentucky has right now.
The end of the season is rushing at the Wildcats like an overhand right, headed squarely for their collective jaw. It could be a knockout punch.
What they did in Knoxville on this forgettable Saturday afternoon was give the members of the NCAA tournament committee every excuse to ignore Kentucky on Selection Sunday. That is unless, of course, the Wildcats somehow make a complete turnaround and finish with the kind of rush that demands a post-season bid.
Based on what we saw today, that’s not likely to happen. He’s too classy to say it, at least not publicly, but what they also did was give the former Wildcat-turned-coach in Morehead every reason to say, “I told you so.”
(Dick Gabriel is in his 24th season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.)