The Kentucky Wildcats are still one of the better teams in the country at 16-7, but there can be no doubting that John Calipari’s bunch is going through some growing pains.
It’s trial and error for the Wildcats, who have found themselves on the latter side of that spectrum far too often lately. Kentucky has lost three of its last four and four of its last six — a terrible run that included a 89-85 loss to Gonzaga earlier this week that marked Kentucky’s third-straight loss at Rupp Arena.
It’s the first three-game losing streak at home for Kentucky since Rupp Arena opened in 1976 and the first such streak since 1966-67.
Kentucky is struggling, no doubt, and to some part, Calipari is blaming his team’s youth and lack of experience. With a more veteran team, he may lean into a more “fire and brimstone” approach as a head coach.
With this squad, though, he needs to walk a fine line.
“I’ve been here with young teams where we had to kick it in gear and go. As much as I’m feeling it hard, tough, I can’t stand losing. How do you think they’re feeling? So, I have to make sure I’m focused on them and keeping them in the right frame of mind,” Calipari said in a news conference (h/t On3).
To the head coach’s point, his roster features eight freshmen and four sophomores.
Kentucky’s leading scorer against Gonzaga was freshman guard Reed Sheppard, with 21 points. The Wildcats’ leading scorer this season has been senior guard Antonio Reeves (19.6 ppg), but he’s one of only four seniors on the roster. Tre Mitchell is scoring 12.3 points per game while senior forward Brennan Canada and senior guard Kareem Watkins are barely registering playing time or stats.
In all, this is absolutely a young squad that needs some time to figure it all out. That’s why Calipari — a college head coach since 1988 and Kentucky’s head man since 2009 — believes all of the blame for the Wildcats’ struggles this season should fall on him.
“You know you’re going to have some of the negative Nellies out there attacking and that’s fine. I told them the other day I hope they just attack me and leave you [his team] alone,” Calipari said.