John Calipari told everybody he was frustrated after the University of Kentucky lost its eighth game of the season Saturday.
“You can see I’m frustrated,” Calipari said.
That was a 66-59 loss at Auburn. It followed an 85-65 total system failure against a really good Alabama team — in Rupp Arena.
So, Calipari had a couple of million (or more) rowing in that same frustration canoe roughly five minutes after the final horn Saturday afternoon.
That pair of losses has brought a full barrage of criticism about how Calipari has handled this season in general — obviously a season like no other because of COVID-19.
Calipari has had little success with this team, and it is at 4-8 in large part because the highly-touted freshman class brought into Lexington can’t put the basketball through the hoop.
These Wildcats can’t shoot and they can’t score. This team can defend pretty well, but it can’t put points up.
UK is 187-8 when an opponent scores 63 or fewer points in Calipari era. This season Kentucky is 2-4 when holding opponents to 66 or fewer points.
They are four games down a hole pushing toward late January when what happens this regular season will be more meaningful than maybe any other college basketball season before it.
They have 13 games left and could easily lose five more the way they’re playing now.
Any evidence that Calipari can get a late-season turnaround out of this team has diminished to near nothing.
UK has struggled through parts of seasons before, but it has generally been able to put together some kind of NCAA Tournament run. Calipari brought up the 2014 UK team that wasn’t running too hot in February but ended up in the national championship game. He said he talked with this group in practice Monday about “the tweak” that got the 2014 team going.
This team doesn’t have that feeling at all right now. The doubts that now surround Calipari from BBN and college basketball observers haven’t been this vocal in the last decade. Noise has been there before, but not at this volume.
Now, there was little expectation here that UK would go to Auburn and win. That was in the aftermath of not being able to recover from Alabama.
It was more how the Wildcats went about losing, and how Calipari orchestrated things from the sidelines.
A ton has been made about Jacob Toppin and Dontaie Allen not starting the second half at Auburn, despite them being the most productive offensive players in the first half.
Calipari explained afterward that he didn’t want to take other players’ hearts away by not starting them in the second half.
This centered on the production of BJ Boston, who has been underwhelming all season.
Boston has been absent late in games, when it’s winning time, because he can’t make the plays. He didn’t play the last five minutes against Auburn.
Allen did play the last five minutes at Auburn.
Calipari said on his radio show Monday that who he trusts is who will play the last five minutes of the game.
The situation with Allen playing or not playing has gotten to supernova level. That stems from the natural tie that UK fans have with a Kentucky Mr. Basketball that lands with the Wildcats. Part of it is that player could be an offensive helper, where one of the top-rated freshmen are not.
The dilemma is real, and Calipari seemed to show some recognition of it when he said on his radio show that he’d opened up practice on Monday, with starting spots for the taking.
There could be four new starters when UK tries to get going again at Georgia on Wednesday.
None of them will be a seasoned point guard, though, and that has been another problem for the Wildcats. Terrence Clarke, who worked at the point a lot, is still maybe 10 days away from being back from a leg injury.
Calipari thinks Boston, Isaiah Jackson and Devin Askew need to be playing at a high level for UK to reach its potential. Clarke is definitely in that category as well.
The problem now is that the potential for this team has fallen to floor level.