Heat on John Calipari rises as Kentucky’s 28-game home winning streak is snapped by South Carolina

Kentucky’s season went from edge to edge on Tuesday as the 19.5-point favorite Wildcats fell at home in a stunner to unranked South Carolina 71-68. The loss ended Kentucky’s 28-game home winning streak at Rupp Arena that has been the longest consecutive streak in the SEC and dropped the Wildcats to 1-3 in conference for the first time since the 1986-87 season. The disastrous loss comes just days after dropping 26 points to Alabama — its biggest margin of loss in the century series against the Crimson Tide — on Saturday.

The Wildcats have struggled at various times throughout the season, both on offense and defense, but Tuesday against the Gamecocks was a combination of everything that went wrong all the time. South Carolina scorched the net from 3, crashed into the offensive boards and collected 21 second-chance points in a wire-to-wire win over the British faithful. And whenever the Wildcats were on the prowl to make things tight, South Carolina seemed to have an answer until the end.

South Carolina got 26 big goals from Meechie Johnson – a new career high – in an out-of-the-mind scoring performance on the road to pulling off the upset. Johnson hit six of his 10 3-point attempts, including an absurd drop from deep late in the second half and another from near the logo to cushion the lead as the UK struggled to get closer. Freshman GG Jackson also added two 3s on two attempts and contributed 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

South Carolina was as hot as Kentucky was freezing in another flat performance from the Wildcats. Even with reigning Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, the UK worked on the boards and attacking glass, and received no help from the attacking side to even the scales. The team only took 10 3s and made it three, a confusing strategy from a team that statistically ranks among the best 3-point shooting teams of the Calipari era.

To complicate matters, star freshman Cason Wallace, the team’s leading 3-point shooter by percentage, left midgame with an injury and did not return.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1. The pressure on Calipari intensifies

John Calipari this week denied reports that Texas officials contacted him about his head coaching job after he fired Chris Beard. But it was as fortuitous a distraction as possible for the Hall of Fame coach. After falling to 15th seed Saint Peter’s in the NCAA Tournament, Big Blue Nation was Big Mad Nation targeting Calipari, and the 10-6 start in 2022-23 – despite opening the season as a top-five team – only added pressure on him. It would be one thing if the talent wasn’t there, but this roster has a lot of parts. The effort, however, seems to rise and fall intermittently and the system – spacing, pacing, 3-point attempts – also seems to be off. It’s never good when your own fan base beckons you to leave. (And even worse when your school officials have to fight with the New York Knicks to defend the coach by kicking a fan out of the arena.)

2. Kentucky’s foul shooting struggles continue

After hitting seven of 14 attempts against South Carolina, Kentucky is now at a dismal 65.6% of the season’s charity strip — a rating that ranks third in the SEC and nearing the 300 mark. nationally (out of 363 Division I teams). Four of Kentucky’s six losses this season have been in double digits, so that’s not the only thing stopping them from winning, but make no mistake: it’s a huge problem. Tuesday was literally the difference between a victory and another painstaking defeat.

3. What’s next for Kentucky?

CBS Sports college basketball staff recorded earlier Tuesday to play how the rest of Kentucky’s season would go, and I was the big guy in the group. Then they turned around and lost arguably the least talented team in the SEC at home. What’s next for Kentucky? There is no respite in sight. Saturday is a road clash against Tennessee and their elite defense that will likely make this British system even more broken.

There’s room for optimism here that Kentucky can turn things around, but there’s no real basis on which you can base that belief. It’s just that… things can’t get any worse. This is a list of the top three talents in the SEC. He doesn’t have to fumble at home against South Carolina as a 19.5-point favorite. Things will surely improve. They are almost certain to improve. But whether that’s a move towards a tournament bid path remains up for debate, and things look a lot gloomier on Tuesday night than they did a few days ago.

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