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John Clay: It's too early to be down on this Kentucky basketball team, but there are concerns

John Clay, Lexington Herald-Leader on

Published in Basketball

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- If you want a feel for how shocking No. 1-ranked Kentucky basketball's 67-64 loss to Evansville was on Tuesday night, you needed only to see the national news on Wednesday morning.

The first segment of the "CBS This Morning" news program featured its "Eye-Opener: Your world in 90 seconds" roundup that included impeachment, snow, the Supreme Court, Disney's streaming service and, yes, UK's loss to the Purple Aces.

The Cats were the new No. 1 in the AP college basketball poll, after all. They were 20-point favorites. And just last Tuesday, John Calipari's club had knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State.

Seven days later, UK went from a magnificent high to a head-turning low, proving a long-standing Calipari point that these kids aren't robots. They're not machines. Stuff happens.

"It's early," said UK grad transfer Nate Sestina afterward. "What is this, November 12? We've got like six months left in the college basketball season. We'll be fine."

Agreed, there's no real reason to be worried by Kentucky's slip on the banana peel. There are at least a couple of reasons to be concerned, however.

 

The first is something Calipari pointed to early on in his postgame press conference, which started with an ode to Walter McCarty and Evansville before slipping into the nuts and bolts on his own vehicle in need of tightening.

"Within the last minute and 20 seconds (Evansville) had two offensive rebounds where (we) had a chance to win, but you've got to go get balls," said the coach. "And literally we couldn't."

Remember, this Kentucky team was outrebounded by Georgetown College in the season's first exhibition game. No knock on the Tigers, but we're talking Georgetown. Tuesday night, UK was outrebounded again, this time 38-35 by the Purple Aces. Moreover, Kentucky grabbed just 22.9% of its offensive rebound opportunities. That's a low number, especially for a Calipari team, which normally bashes opponents on the boards. Last year's team's offensive rebound percentage was 36.8. The 2015 Final Four team was at 39.5 percent. The 2012 national title team, the one with Anthony Davis, was at 37.3 percent.

EJ Montgomery's absence (ankle injury) Tuesday somewhat hindered UK's rebounding efforts. And Nick Richards, so good against Eastern Kentucky last Friday with 21 points and 10 boards, returned to so-so with six points and six rebounds.

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