Gonzaga hands Cats unprecedented 3rd straight loss at Rupp

Published 11:16 am Monday, February 12, 2024

Gonzaga made history on its first visit to Lexington.

Seeking their first signature victory of the season, the Bulldogs (18-6) handed Kentucky its third straight defeat in Rupp Arena, marking the first time the Wildcats have suffered three consecutive setbacks in the place they have called home since 1976.

“What an awesome college atmosphere,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Just unbelievable. I thought both teams did a good job.”

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The last time Kentucky lost three straight home games in Lexington came during the 1966-67 season when the Wildcats lost three of their first five games, including back-to-back setbacks at Memorial Coliseum. Even during Eddie Sutton’s last campaign during the 1988-89 season, the Wildcats avoided losing three straight at Rupp Arena.

Despite the brutal stretch, Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t given up on his squad and doesn’t want Big Blue Nation to get down on his team, either.

“Stick with them,” Calipari urged the team’s fanbase. “I appreciate the fans. You walk into this building and it’s packed like it’s been for three games. normally come out like on fire and we just haven’t. But again, nothing has changed in my mind with this team. We have the ability to do what we want. We’re just going to have to do it together.”

Like their two previous losses at home to unranked Florida and No. 6 Tennessee, respectively, the Wildcats (16-7) had a chance to win at the end but failed to finish when it counted. The Gators nipped Kentucky in overtime and the Volunteers survived a shootout a week ago.

“Even if we don’t play great and we have our chances,” Calipari said. “Most of our breakdowns come down on the defensive end and I’m spending a lot of time on it and working on it. Thank goodness we have time.”

Down by 13 in the first half, Kentucky rallied and staged a comeback in the second half and even led by six at 57-51 with 12:30 remaining. Despite outscoring the Zags 25-9 to open the second half, Kentucky lost its lead down the stretch.

Down 86-84 with 43 seconds left, the Wildcats forced a jump ball on defense and had a chance to tie or take the lead on the ensuing possession, but a botched lob attempt provided an avenue of escape for the Zags in the final 14 seconds.

Despite the disappointing finish, Calipari said Gonzaga’s 18 offensive rebounds, 50 points inside and his team’s poor performance in the opening half was the difference.

“I told (the players) after (the game) we lost the game in the first half,” he said. “We came back and fought, made it close. But the first half is what cost us.”

The Kentucky coach also cited his team’s lack of hustle plays, especially on the glass. Gonzaga outrebounded the Wildcats 43-31.

“It was just disappointing that we got beat to so many balls — just disappointing, and I think we’re better than that,” he said.

The players also were disappointed.

“We’ve got to take pride in the little stuff,” Kentucky freshman Justin Edwards said. “That’s something we say all the time to each other. We’ve got to take pride in guarding the ball down low. What hurt us the most was guarding the ball and second-chance points.”

Reed Sheppard did his best to help spark a successful comeback by scoring all of his 21 points in the second half. Antonio Reeves followed Sheppard with 17 points and Adou Thiero finished with 15.