The Cats lost a game they had no business winning tonight in Indianapolis. From the opening tip they were tight, settling for jumpers, playing right into Wisconsin's game plan, and that's the thing I'd like to focus on right now: game plan.
Caveat: As I said last night, I am not a basketball guy. I'm a football guy (really, I'm a baseball guy, but try getting a readership writing about that).
Yet I don't have to be Adolph Rupp to know that the team I watched was unprepared for this game against a Wisconsin team which, I believe, was playing with their best player at far below 100%. From the opening tip, Kentucky settled for the jumpers Wisconsin gave them. The first one, a three by Andrew Harrison, though we had no way of knowing it at the time, was probably the death knell for Kentucky, who proceeded to take long jumper after long jumper despite seeing almost none of them fall.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, was patient, efficient, and mediocre as always. And tonight, with Kentucky playing far below its mean, that was plenty.
Look, I hate to say this, but I'm going to. Bo Ryan coached Olympic circles around John Calipari tonight. Going back to that term, game plan, Wisconsin's was simple: pack in the defense, don't let Karl Towns beat you. With Devin Booker being an empty jersey the last two months, Kentucky found itself left with only one real shooter, and Aaron Harrison alone wasn't enough to intimidate Wisconsin from beyond the arc. On top of the Xs and Os, which, again, I'm wholly unqualified to dissect, Kentucky looked like they didn't care. Yeah, I know, that's a harsh criticism, and I'm not calling out the players for their effort or desire. I believe they wanted to care. But, when confronted with a relatively straightforward Wisconsin game plan, they were ill-equipped to play with the effort befitting a Final Four game. In other words, they were ready to give the effort; they just didn't know where to channel it because Wisconsin foiled them.
I've been holding back on this all week because of superstition and, if I'm honest, fear of being right, but Cal was visibly shaken at the end of the Notre Dame game, and while I have no idea if his players noticed, I did. Many of you did, too. And I thought Kentucky looked like a team afraid to lose tonight.
But why? Was it because Cal was so close to that undefeated team he always talked about? Was it because he just really wanted to win a national championship? Other?
Here are the answers to that: Yes. No. Yes (my opinion).
The pressure, in my opinion, simply got to Cal. It was written on his face last week in Cleveland, which is something I've never seen before--not just from him; I've never seen a college coach on the sidelines look scared. Before you get up in arms, let me explain that I'm completely okay with that, with Cal expressing honest human emotion in a trying moment. I actually found it refreshing. My point, though, is that I believe it trickled down to his players. But again, I come back to why. Why did he look so tense? He's been in dozens, probably hundreds, of tense games.
I theorize that he's known for some time that this would be his last season at Kentucky, his last go with these players, and he wanted to finish this thing off on his terms. Look, I have no inside information. My blog, despite the perspective (not so much right this second, when I'm telling you about my reading of context clues) and writing being better than all the other Kentucky blogs, isn't that popular yet. I'm telling you what I feel in my gut. I believe Cal coached his last game at Kentucky tonight, and I believe he's known for a while that it would be; additionally, I think the players, on some level, knew as well.
Only time will tell, but for now, let me close with this. This team, this ride, has been amazing. I'm so proud of this team, so proud of these players, and I pray I'm wrong. I hope John Calipari retires as the coach of this university. But when it comes to situations like this, my guesses are usually pretty accurate. Not always, but my record is pretty good (I'm not bragging; obviously, you have no reason to take me at my word). I'll go into more detail about all this over the course of the week, but for tonight, let's congratulate Wisconsin, celebrate this amazing team, which, let's not forget, is still responsible for yet another banner in the John Calipari era, and drink the bourbon with which God blessed the Bluegrass specifically for nights like tonight.
Heartbreakers like tonight come with the territory when you care as much as we do, and they make the successes that follow that much sweeter. Jack Nicklaus won 18 Major Championships. He had 19 runners-up. The key to building something we want to build is to keep putting yourself in the position, and Cal and this team did that again. So, cheers to this team for an amazing season.