Kentucky and Calipari frustrated by seasonal struggle

LEXINGTON, Kentucky. — Kentucky All-American forward Oscar Chibwe wonders if Wildcats hitters should play at this point in a disappointing season just to show some fire.

The fact that the best player of the year in college basketball challenged his talented teammates speaks eloquently of the crisis in one of the most prestigious and successful sports programs.

“Play with people who are ready to fight, even ordinary people,” the usually affable senior said after last night. 71-68 home loss to South Carolina. “Put people who are trying to look cute on offense where they don’t want to play defense, put them on the bench. We are here to fight and try to do something.”

Kentucky started the season No. 4 and was favored by winning the Southeastern Conference – along with its usual high expectations for the national championship. For now, the Wildcats have some work to do to just get into the NCAA tournament bubble.

Passionate fans of the team vented resentment and anger on talk shows and social media, even calling for the resignation of coach John Calipari. Reports that Texas has applied to the Hall of Fame for a coaching job have only fueled that once-unthinkable mood to the point where one fan was accompanied from Rupp Arena on Tuesday evening due to a sign that read “Please Go Texas”.

Yes, it has come to that in Big Blue Nation.

Calipari will earn $8.5 million this season, with the remaining $53 million under a lifetime contract in the 2028-29 season, which has no buyout. He said he had not spoken to Texas this week and insisted on ignoring the noise.

But Calipari knows that the discontent is there, and it grows louder with each disappointing defeat.

“And the fans are angry? That’s the way it should be,” he said Tuesday after the Kentucky 28-game home winning streak was snapped. “We lost at home. We don’t lose at home. We lost at home.”

Calipari also pointed out the obvious: a 10-6 Kentucky team that is 1-3 in the SEC needs to improve, starting with themselves.

The Wildcats struggle with chemistry and consistency at both ends of the court. Calipari’s strategy and recruitment are being put to the test. Injuries didn’t help, although Chibwe is averaging 16 points and 13.1 rebounds per game after a preseason right knee procedure. However, Alabama’s physical team limited him to six rebounds and four points per game. 78-52 shellac in which Kentucky starters scored just 27 points against now gone. 4 Crimson Tide.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said it’s too early to panic, but noted that the Wildcats should be reactivated in the second half of the season.

“It’s not an X-and-O issue, it’s a player issue,” Bilas said in a phone interview. “And the players should bring more, do more collectively and individually than they did. Some players will be more capable of doing more than others. But it’s not about doing another attack and suddenly things get better.”

Whatever needs to be done, Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart expressed faith in Calipari’s ability to fix it during an interview Friday with Kentucky Sports Radio.

“We’ve overcome some injury issues, we’ve overcome some confidence issues, and hopefully we can get past those issues,” Barnhart said. to get to the postseason and make a run. We are known for this and Cal’s teams are known for this.”

In a crazy state that expects championships and annual top three recruiting courses, the problem is that Kentucky hasn’t won an NCAA championship since 2012, didn’t make the Final Four 38-1 in 2015, and wasn’t a serious contender for a national title. after losing to Auburn in overtime in the Elite Eight in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out Big Dance in 2020, and a 9–16 crash the following year ruled out the Wildcats entirely.

Chibwe’s phenomenal run was key to last season’s rebound, but the team was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament No. 15 at St. Peters – Considered Kentucky’s worst NCAA defeat ever.

With the return of the 6-foot, 9-year-old Chibwe, hopes were high again. Kentucky is currently missing a Quad 1 win on its tournament resume after losses to Michigan State, Gonzaga, UCLA, Bama, and now No. 20 Missouri in double digits.

This week’s loss to the Gamecocks showed everything Kentucky did wrong. The Wildcats never led against the lowest-ranked team in the SEC and it took a furious rally to score a point before missing out on attempts to tie the score in the closing seconds. After that, Chibwe lamented.

“Some of us, when we come in, take things for granted,” he said. “I just tell them (that) coaches, they can’t do it for us. They simply offer a game plan, who we will depend on and how we will play in attack.

“We came to Kentucky for a very good reason, we came in pursuit of greatness. And if you come not wanting to fight, it will be hard.”

Kentucky’s near-term prospects look dire after Saturday’s visit to No. 5 Tennessee, who won last year’s meeting 76-63 in Knoxville and four of the last six games overall. Volunteer coach Rick Barnes, however, expects the Wildcats to do better this weekend and beyond with Calipari.

“I’m not sure if his entire team has been together all year,” Barnes said on Thursday. “One thing I know for sure is that his teams always get better and play better basketball at the end of the year.”

The Wildcats then host the No. 2 Kansas, the reigning national champions, in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on January 28. The Jayhawks will no doubt be looking to avenge last year’s 80-62 loss to Allen Fieldhouse.

Kentucky also has two encounters against No. 15 Arkansas and a home rematch with the Volunteers.

With the Wildcats losing to a Tennessee-coached 43 home team from South Carolina, they can’t afford to ignore any SEC challenger. But now the problem is whether the Wildcats can beat one of them.

“Every game we play will be a dogfight with Kentucky,” forward Daimion Collins said. “We just need to fight, work hard, recover and defend. If we do that, we’ll win some games.”


AP Collegiate Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25.

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

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