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February 16, 2013

Cats hit rock bottom in 88-58 loss at Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The referees blew a call. Tennessee blew the doors off Kentucky.

Now the question is whether the Wildcats' season blew up Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

In a season that has had its fair share of ups and downs, No. 25 UK hit rock bottom on Rocky Top, falling 88-58 to Tennessee.

The Volunteers started fast, but put their foot on UK's throat after a missed call that led to an ejection.

With 12:58 to play in the first half and Tennessee (14-10, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) leading by nine, the ball was jammed between the backboard and rim resulting in a jump ball.

Since Tennessee won the tipoff, possession should have been rewarded to UK (17-8, 8-4 SEC).

It wasn't. The officials mistakenly gave the ball to the Vols and what followed would be John Calipari's worst collegiate loss since his first season coaching at Massachusetts in 1989.

"Game is over right away, right after that," Calipari said.

Tennessee's Skylar McBee hit a three-pointer off the ensuing inbounds. The Vols would push their lead to 12 before going into a media timeout, and UK assistant John Robic's day would be cut short.

Robic was ejected for arguing the call, and the Vols went on an 11-0 run pushing their lead to 35-12.

"They (the officials) got the call wrong," Calipari said. "John was disappointed about it, I don't think that he said enough to get tossed, but they did it."

Not that the call was the end-all.

The Cats struggled to find a rhythm at either end of the floor in their first game without Nerlens Noel. UK shot 35.8 percent from the field and was outrebounded 39-21. Tennessee shot 58 percent from the field, and a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc.

"The way we played, and the way that they played, even if we had Nerlens we would have gotten beat - big," Calipari said.

And that means big changes.

If they don't happen, Calipari sees Big Blue blowouts happening more often.

"They realize if we don't do this all together we're going to have many more of these," Calipari said.

For just the second time since Calipari became the head coach at UK in 2009, the Cats have lost back-to-back games.

Calipari said practices have been terrible since Tuesday's loss at Florida. He tried mixing things up before the game, starting Jarrod Polson and Kyle Wiltjer over Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress, and while that didn't work, the trial and error will continue as the season winds down.

"We have a couple guys that are basically not real coachable," Calipari said. "You tell them over and over and over what you want to do, what you have to do and they do their own things."

Only Polson and Julius Mays fought Saturday, Calipari said. The two combined for 23 points. Wiltjer led the Cats with 18.

Polson agreed with Calipari that if more players don't come out fighting the Cats can expect similar results.

"If we don't, it's going to be the same thing," Polson said. "We got to find something that will help us stay positive. We have to have a higher intensity."

The second half was no kinder to the Cats. Tennessee pushed its lead to 39 with 2:28 to play before UK went on an 11-2 run to close the game.

With time running out on the season and UK still desperately needing quality wins, the Cats' fate will depend on how it responds from Saturday's beat down.

"We'll regroup," Calipari said. "I've done this for 20 something years, I've had this happen. Question is, will they respond coming back? The only way you can respond is you must change. OK, what we were doing wasn't right, let's change."

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