Kentucky basketball: What the hell happened last night?

ATLANTA — Kentucky basketball fans all woke up Friday morning asking some version of the same question, which could just as easily have been about a rough outing at the bars in Atlanta as the outcome of their team’s Sweet 16 game against Kansas State: What the hell happened last night?

In other words, how in the world did the fifth-seeded Wildcats in blue lose a game to the ninth-seeded Wildcats in purple when KSU shot just 35 percent from the field and UK attempted 15 more free throws? How could that have been the recipe for a 61-58 defeat and John Calipari’s first failure to get out of the Sweet 16 in seven tries at Kentucky?

Let us count the ways — and there are so many in the final minute alone. But when the coach replays this nightmare in his mind, when he reflects on why the Wildcats careened off a perfectly paved path to the Final Four, the tape will start almost at the end.

“I should have called that timeout late, with 19 seconds to go, but we had worked on something and I thought we could catch them off guard,” Calipari said. Against a veteran opponent, however, “should have called a timeout. Can’t put that on these guys. That’s right on my shoulders.”

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To be fair, it started slipping away even before that critical moment, which we’ll get to.

With 49 seconds remaining, the game was tied and PJ Washington had just volleyball spiked a KSU shot out of bounds. Then the purple-clad Wildcats missed another contested shot with 46 ticks left and a mad scramble for the loose ball ensued.

Kentucky could not corral it. Kansas State dove on it and was awarded a timeout with 40 seconds to go.

“If we got that rebound,” UK star Kevin Knox said, “it could’ve been a different game.”

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Instead, Barry Brown drove past Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and floated a go-ahead shot over Washington’s long, outstretched arm with 19 seconds left. Right there, down 60-58, is when Calipari concedes he should’ve called timeout and talked it over with the four freshmen and a sophomore who were on the floor.

Since he didn’t, Gilgeous-Alexander drove into the right corner, spun and shoveled it to Quade Green, who did not even blink before uncorking a contested 3-pointer. It missed badly — missed everything, in fact. Had him taking that shot been the plan?

“No,” Green admits, “it was for Kevin, going to the weak side. But the play broke up, the defender got in front of Shai, so he had to get around him, and I just came back and shot it. I’m thinking it was going to go in. I tried to [take the lead] for my team, but I didn’t.”

When Green let it fly from the right corner, Knox was wide open in the left corner, waving his right arm. Maybe it would’ve gone differently with a timeout for Calipari to make clear what he wanted to happen. But maybe not.

After Kansas State made one free throw and missed one to leave the door open, Kentucky did take a timeout with 5.4 seconds remaining. The Wildcats did draw up exactly what they wanted for a tying 3-point attempt. And it still fell apart.

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Green threw the ball into to Gilgeous-Alexander, who waited for Knox and Washington to both set screens above the free-throw line for Wenyen Gabriel, who had made 14 of 21 threes in the postseason. But Gabriel was slow curling around beyond the arc, and well defended when he did, so Gilgeous-Alexander kept it and launched a desperation heave at the buzzer.

It nearly banked in, but when it didn’t, Calipari and Kentucky fans were left to wonder: What the hell happened last night?

“I woke up this morning feeling as sick as I did last night after the game,” Calipari tweeted early Friday. “This is going to hurt for a while for all of us.”

The post Kentucky basketball: What the hell happened last night? appeared first on SEC Country.

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