EXINGTON, Ky. -- A win may have been a bit much to ask of his team, but undoubtedly, Massachusetts coach John Calipari wanted the final score to be closer.
He wanted the final tally to back his claim when he tells his friends UMass trailed 14th-ranked Kentucky by 6 points with 12 minutes left. He wanted the score to reflect the struggle Kentucky had before finally putting away the scrappy Minutemen in the last 12 minutes. Calipari will still tell his story, but his friends will probably consider Kentucky's 90-69 rout and wonder if he's stretching the truth a bit.
The Minutemen (5-1), who won the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage Monday night, didn't arrive in the Lexington area until 10 p.m. Tuesday, after sitting in a parked plane in Anchorage for 2 1/2 hours, then missing their connecting flight after arriving in Portland, Ore. That played a big factor against Kentucky, which was playing for the first time since losing to Pittsburgh Nov. 22.
The Minutemen battled back from double-digit deficits in the first half to frustrate the Wildcats and a crowd of 23,208 eager to see UMass put away. They got their wish in the closing minutes, when the Minutemen fell behind by 14 and couldn't recover.
But Calipari wouldn't hide behind the fatigue factor. "No excuses -- they beat our butts," he said. "We're better than what we put out tonight, but that's neither here nor there."
UMass held a 17-11 lead with 12:51 left in the first half, then stayed close after Kentucky took the lead at 21-19 with 9:52 to go. The Minutemen fell behind, 40-29, with 5:15 left in the half but cut the lead to 3 and trailed, 46-41, at the break.
"I used to study the fatigue element in the NBA and I knew that although they arrived late, they'd come out strong," said Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, whose team improved to 2-1. The UMass grad improved to 6-0 against his alma mater, including five wins at Boston University.
"I knew that somewhere along the line the fatigue would affect them, but I also knew they'd come out sky high."
The Minutemen trailed, 59-53, with 12 minutes to go, and their legs sat out the rest of the game. Jumpers that they normally swish began hitting only the front rim. Layups would not fall. And the defense that kept the team close in the first half failed them. With 10:53 to go, Kentucky guard Richie Farmer (22 points) put his team up, 67-53, with a 3-point basket.
"Farmer killed us," said Calipari. "Every time we wanted to make a rally, he hurt us with a bucket."
The Minutemen cut the lead to 69-59 with 8:18 left. But instead of tightening up their defense, they began committing fouls to keep the Wildcats from going by. Kentucky hit 14 of 16 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. Jamal Mashburn led all scorers with 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"Our legs gave out with about five minutes left," said forward Jim McCoy, who led the Minutemen with 22 points. "We usually come out in the second half with fire in our eyes."
"The score should have been closer; that's what bothered me," said Calipari. "That's what I told the kids after the game, that they shouldn't have committed those dumb fouls. We lost our focus of what was going on.
"We had plenty of chances to fold. We missed shots we usually dunk. It wasn't so much the fatigue. It was the way they played."
|Kentucky Wildcats (#14)||90|
|Rupp Arena, at Kentucky|