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December 7, 2013

After loss to Baylor, Calipari slams Cats' toughness

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It looked to be in hand, and maybe that was the problem.

A Julius Randle dunk in the second half of Kentucky's game against Baylor late Friday night at AT&T Stadium gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead and seemed to have them well on their way to a sixth straight win.

Everything was going right for the Cats. Then suddenly nothing was. No. 20 Baylor dominated the game's final 13 minutes, pulling away to beat No. 3 UK 67-62 on an icy night in North Texas.

"Soon as this thing got rough and the first two raindrops hit, it's like a front-running team," Calipari said. "The raindrops hit, we stop fighting. We start looking for excuses and heads down."

Heads were down again in the postgame news conference. Calipari's was up, but steam all but billowed out of it. After four minutes of questions, he walked out of the postgame media opportunity, clearly fuming.

Kentucky (7-2) entered the game as the nation's best rebounding team. Baylor (8-1) battered the Cats on the boards 41-25. And even on a night when UK's offense went south -- it made two field goals in the final 13:07 -- Calipari pointed to rebounding down the stretch as key to the loss.

"There were three or four (rebounds), we get those, we win the game," Calipari said. "It wasn't that important. It's more important that I get the ball on offense. That's where we are as a team right now. But that's what you would expect from a young team. I would hope they'd have more fight to win the game. They didn't. They had, Baylor had, way more fight than we had."

It had more experience, too, and the Bears pointed to that as a key to their success. It was a factor in limiting Kentucky to 35 percent shooting in the second half; to confounding the UK offense with a zone; to limiting Randle's touches down the stretch.

"They're great freshmen," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, "but freshmen still are 18 years old, and if they're competing against 22-year-olds, that is tough."

Kentucky's most seasoned players, Willie Cauley-Stein (eight points, three rebounds in 33 minutes) and Alex Poythress (no points, two rebounds in six minutes) weren't significant factors.

Junior-college transfer Kenny Chery had 18 points and five assists for the Bears. Senior Cory Jefferson had 13 points and eight rebounds.

"When you're playing a bunch of freshmen on the court, it's all about thinking," said Baylor sophomore Rico Gathers, who had six points and a game-high 13 rebounds. "We basically out-thought them today. Like, we made Julius Randle real uncomfortable. He wasn't getting no easy stuff. When they came in the lane, they weren't getting too many easies. All them freshmen, it was kind of like they were stunned, or shocked."

Kentucky played that way down the stretch. And when it was over, Aaron Harrison and Randle sat by Calipari's side as he called out his team for a lack of fight.

"I mean, you can't take it personal," said Randle, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. "He's doing it as a challenge, just challenging us. He knows all of us have fight in us. It's just another level at the college level. We just have to focus more. When things get rough, that's when we really have to come together."

On Friday, UK came apart.

In one stretch, as Baylor chipped away at the lead, the Cats had turnovers on five of six possessions. After trailing by nine with 13:07 to play, the Bears took the lead for good at the 6:01 mark on a pair of free throws by Chery, whom Calipari said "controlled the game."

Kentucky closed to within a point, 61-60, on James Young's three-pointer with 3:07 to play, but on the Cats' next possession, he missed two free throws that could have given his team the lead.

The Cats shot 12 of 23 from the free-throw line.

Kentucky sputtered in a de facto home game. Though Baylor wore home uniforms and the public-address announcer celebrated Bears baskets, Kentucky fans made up the majority of a crowd announced at 12,818.

"Our fans just want to see a team fight and battle and compete, and this team didn't," Calipari said.

It will have to start if it wants to avoid similar results the rest of the month. Kentucky's schedule doesn't ease up in December, with a visit from a strong Boise State team on Tuesday followed by a weekend trip to North Carolina.

"Either we'll start fighting or we'll keep losing," Calipari said. "There's no option."

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