John Calipari heats up as Kentucky’s 28-game winning streak is snapped at home by South Carolina

John Calipari heats up as Kentucky’s 28-game winning streak is snapped at home by South Carolina

Kentucky’s season fell from the brink on Tuesday when the 19.5-point favorite Wildcats lost at home in a stunning 71-68 to unranked South Carolina. The loss ended Kentucky’s 28-game home winning streak at the Rupp Arena was the longest running streak in the SEC and dropped the Wildcats to 1-3 in conference play for the first time since the 1986-87 season. The disastrous loss comes just days after Alabama’s 26-point drop — the biggest loss in the century-long streak against the Crimson Tide — on Saturday.

The Wildcats have struggled at various points throughout the season, either on offense or defense, but everything went wrong at all times on Tuesday against the Gamecocks. South Carolina seared the nets of 3, shattered the offensive ties and racked up 21 second chance points in a wire-to-wire win over the British loyalists. And every time the Wildcats lurked to make things close, South Carolina seemed to have an answer by the end.

South Carolina got 26 big ones from Meechie Johnson – a new career high – in an incredible scoring effort on the road to end the upset. Johnson hit six of his 10 3-point attempts, including an absurd step back from distance late in the second half and another from near the logo to cushion the lead as Britain pushed to get closer. Star freshman GG Jackson also added two 3s on two tries and contributed 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

South Carolina was as hot as Kentucky was freezing in another flat performance by the Wildcats. Even with reigning Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, UK were worked on the boards and offensive glass and got no help from the offensive side of things to even the scales. The team only needed 10 3s and made three, a confusing strategy from a team statistically considered one of the best 3-point shooting teams of the Calipari era.

To make matters worse, freshman star Cason Wallace, the team’s top 3-point shooter percentage, quit mid-game with an injury and hasn’t returned.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1. The pressure on Calipari is increasing

John Calipari this week denied reports that Texas officials had contacted him about his vacancy as head coach following Chris Beard’s firing. But that was the most random distraction possible for the Hall of Fame coach. After falling from Saint Peter’s at No. 15 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-5 team – only increased the pressure on him. It would be one thing if the talent wasn’t there, but this squad has a lot of pieces. However, the effort seems to wax and wane at times and the system – the spacing, the pace, the 3-point attempts – also seem to have failed. It’s never a good thing when your own fan base is making signs that you should go. (And even worse when your school officials have to crank up the New York Knicks to defend the coach by kicking a fan out of the arena.)

2. Kentucky’s foul shooting battles continue

After beating seven of their 14 tries against South Carolina, Kentucky now has a pitiful 65.6% of the charity streak for the season — a mark that ranks third-worst in the SEC and is near the 300 mark nationally (up from 363 Division I teams). Four of Kentucky’s six losses that season were in double digits, so it’s not the only thing keeping it from winning, but make no mistake: It’s a massive problem. On Tuesday, it was literally the difference between a win and another painful loss.

3. What’s next for Kentucky?

The CBS Sports College basketball staff went to the game early on Tuesday how the rest of the season would play out in Kentucky, and I was the high guy of the bunch. Then they turned around and lost at home to arguably the least talented team in the SEC. What’s next for Kentucky? A grace period is not in sight. Saturday is a street game against Tennessee and its elite defense that probably makes this British system look even more broken.

There’s room for optimism here that Kentucky can turn things around, but there’s no real foundation on which to build that belief. It’s just that… it can’t get much worse. This is a top 3 list by talent in the SEC. As a 19.5-point favorite, it has no place at home against South Carolina. Everything will be better for sure. You are almost certain to get better. But whether that’s a turn towards a tournament offering is up for debate and things appear to be a lot murkier on Tuesday night than they were a few days ago.

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