No turning back, Cats say they must move forward

The day after a loss, John Calipari doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He wants to mourn.

It’s just how he’s always functioned. A coach who cares so deeply about winning, a loss sends him into a 24-hour recovery period before he resets and moves ahead.

Coach Cal and the Wildcats don’t have that luxury after Thursday night’s 71-67 loss to Arkansas– and perhaps that’s a good thing.

Less than 24 hours after the disappointing loss to the Razorbacks – Kentucky’s second loss in its last three games at Rupp Arena – the UK coaching staff and players had no choice but to pick up the pieces and forget about the letdown with another game on the horizon.

“We’ll watch tape and see what we did wrong, see what we could have done, and then it’ll be out of the window,” Alex Poythress said. “You can’t worry about it no more because that’s how the game of sports is. You can’t dwell on the last game. You get your mind all messed up. You just got to move forward.”

The basics

What: No. 17/15 Kentucky (21-7, 11-4 SEC) at South Carolina (10-18, 3-12 SEC)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Colonial Life Arena (18,000) in Columbia, S.C.
Game notes: UK | South Carolina

TV/Radio coverage

Radio:  UK IMG
Satellite radio: XM 91; Sirius 91
Online audio: All-access
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live stats: Gametracker
Live blog:

South Carolina

Record: 10-18, 3-12 in the SEC
Head coach: Frank Martin (24-36 at South Carolina)
Ranking: N/A
Nickname: Gamecocks
Player to watch: Sindarius Thornwell (13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game)
Series history: UK leads 47-10
Last meeting: UK won 77-55 on Feb. 5, 2013

And move forward the Wildcats did on Friday.

There were film sessions and individual meetings in the morning before practice in the afternoon. The Cats were schedule to take off for Columbia, S.C., in the evening for a Saturday matchup with South Carolina.

“That’s the great thing about basketball, you know, is it’s not like football (where), if you lose a game, you have to wait a week,” Poythress said. “Basketball, you know, you play the next couple of days, so we’re just trying to get this out the window. We lost. We know that. There’s nothing we can do. We can’t change the past. We’re just trying to look to the future.”

The quick turnaround gives the Cats no time to wallow in their misery. Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein said Saturday’s game forces everyone to wash their hair of the loss, take their medicine and come back with a renewed focus.

Willie Cauley-Stein tied a career high with 13 rebounds Thursday against Arkansas. (photo by Chris Reynolds)

“There’s not much you can do about it,” Cauley-Stein said. “There’s no reason to soak in it. Just remember the feeling.”

The feeling after Thursday’s loss was a somber one.

Poythress said there were visible tears in the postgame locker room, and though he spoke of moving on, he said a loss like Thursday’s stings for a bit.

Meanwhile, Coach Cal, usually one to point out the lessons a young team can get out of a loss, was as noticeably disappointed and as frustrated as he has ever been in the postgame press conference. Calipari said he was as surprised as anyone at the effort, telling reporters he did not expect his team to play like it did.

Calipari talked of careless play by his guards, the inability for his team to come out of timeouts and execute, and the lack of responsibility after mistakes.

“That’s what young guys do,” Coach Cal said. “Can’t alibi. Every one of them, ‘My fault, I should have done this. You’re right, but I could have done this.’ You know, ugly.”

There was a noticeably different tone Thursday than there was after the loss to Florida a couple weeks ago.

“The difference with the Florida game was there was so much to be encouraged about, we could move on,” Calipari said. “This one is almost like you’re waiting, what’s going to happen in this next game? Hopefully they understand and take stock.”

After a night’s sleep, Calipari came back with a renewed sense of urgency Friday. He took to Twitter and to Facebook to express his belief in his team, which now sits at 21-7, 11-4 in the Southeastern Conference.

“Last night was not what I expected, but it does not change how I feel about this team,” Calipari wrote. “I love this team. We have a bunch of good kids who want to do well, but nobody said this was going to be easy. My job is to continue to paint a picture of how they need to play. It’s not so much about what I don’t want them to do; it’s about what I want them to do.

“There were seven minutes in the second half last night where we played exactly how we needed to play. They didn’t make every shot but they played with the energy, the chemistry and the will to win we are looking for. But it was only seven minutes. We just have to refocus and get back on that positive path.”

Kentucky, which is playing for a stronger NCAA Tournament seed, cannot afford to dwell on the loss. The Cats currently sit at No. 14 in the NCAA’s official RPI, but they still have just two wins against teams in the RPI top 50.

To that effect, South Carolina, at 10-18 on the season, 3-12 in SEC play, cannot help Kentucky. All the Cats can do Saturday is take care of business and try to avoid a damaging loss.

“It’s getting too close to crunch time,” Cauley-Stein said. “You can’t dwell on it and then do the same thing the next game because you’re thinking about the last game. Then the next thing you know, you stepped way too far behind and there’s no return after that.”

Cauley-Stein added that the disappointment he’s feeling this late in the season does not compare to last year’s NIT team because this group is almost surely headed to the Big Dance. But make no mistake about it, he knows there is a need to turn things around.

“Last year we was one of those teams fighting for the spot,” Cauley-Stein said. “We was on the bubble, we was off the bubble, we’re not in, we win the next two games we’re in. So it’s like then you really feel like you are seriously fighting for your life. Now it’s like I don’t think guys get that. I think some of us think that we already in and everything is going to take care of itself but (we are) not in yet and it could easily go south if we don’t turn it around.”

Poythress, a member of that NIT team, agreed.

“There’s no more excuses,” Poythress said. “It’s too late for excuses at this point in the year. No one wants to hear ‘My bad, my fault, I shouldn’t have did this, it slipped.’ At this point in the season you want to trust everybody to do your job and do what you do. If everybody does their job then everything works out good.”

After the gargantuan preseason expectations, no one thought this team would have seven losses already. But it does, and there’s no going back. All the Cats can do is move forward.

“It’s hard when you take steps back and we don’t keep getting better,” Julius Randle said. “We just got to stay the course. Adversity’s going to hit anybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a basketball player, it doesn’t matter who you are. In life, adversity’s going to hit you. It’s definitely hit us this year, but if we’re staying the course, keep being strong and don’t let it waver you, I think we’ll be fine.”