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March 8, 2013

Notes: Calipari takes blame as UK stumbles

ATHENS, Ga. - John Calipari can take the heat.

He's won 77 percent of his games. He's coming off an NCAA title. And the Kentucky coach has been through the ups and downs of rebuilding jobs at Massachusetts and Memphis.

So as the Wildcats stumble down the stretch of a once-promising season - a swoon that continued with Thursday night's 72-62 loss at Georgia - Calipari is fine with taking responsibility.

"I'm not fazed by this," Calipari said. "I'm an old man now. I used to be the young guy. Now I'm the old guy. I'm disappointed in myself more than I am (the players), because if we're at this point, what I saw today, I've done a crap job with this team."

Calipari said he's often been willing to take the blame for his teams.

This team, he said, often has been willing to let him.

"They're agreeing with me," Calipari said. "The other team, the (coach) kills them: 'They got no heart. They got none of this. The worst team in history.' And all the sudden the team comes out and plays well. I probably should do that. But it's not in me."

But on Thursday, two of his players disagreed strongly.

Forward Willie Cauley-Stein and guard Archie Goodwin insisted after the Georgia loss that 30 games into the season, the responsibility to improve falls on the players.

"It's completely off Coach Cal," Cauley-Stein said. "We've got one more regular-season game left and there is not much you can coach us about. You can't coach a mentality. You just can't do it. He's prepared us thus far, but you just can't coach a mentality. (The players have) got to want to do it."

Goodwin said Calipari should take "none of the blame" for his team's consistent struggles.

"Coach Cal is an exceptional coach, gonna be a Hall of Famer," Goodwin said. "The things that he does for players, it's remarkable, and no other coach in the country does it. For him to take the criticism and try to block things that he does for us, that just speaks volumes about his character."

Calipari said those sentiments represented "two out of 12" players.

"I don't know if they all feel that way," Calipari said. "That's why we're where we are."

Ultimately, though, Calipari said where Kentucky is falls on his shoulders.

"I'm not going to blame a kid," Calipari said. "At the end of the day, it's my job to get them to play right. And they're not playing right."

Bubble Trouble
Though Kentucky has struggled to find quality wins for its NCAA Tournament resume, the Cats at least could hang their hat on a lack of bad losses.

But a loss at Georgia qualifies. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 134 in the RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com, the lowest-ranked team to have beaten the Wildcats this season.

Georgia coach Mark Fox said the Wildcats still belong in the field of 68.

"Are you kidding me?" Fox said. "They have 20 wins already."

The Cats are less focused on that than on what's in front of them this week.

"It doesn't even matter to me now," Cauley-Stein said. "We just have to go day by day and try to take care of business against Florida. At least compete and then the score takes care of itself. We've just got to compete."

Goodwin said UK "probably won't make the NCAA Tournament" if it doesn't find a way to fight.

"It's very disappointing," Goodwin said. "And it hurts me because I'm a competitor and I love to win, and that's something I want to be a part of. And I know guys on this team want to do the same thing. And it just hurts, because we have the talent and we have the players and everything we need. The athleticism, everything. But as long as we don't fight, then what's the point of having the people that we have on the team?"

Home Team Cookin'
With the win, Georgia improved to 6-3 at home in Southeastern Conference play. Last week, the Bulldogs beat Tennessee at Stegeman Coliseum to snap the Volunteers' six-game winning streak.

Kentucky brought its share of fans, and the result was a season-high crowd of 10,062 Thursday night.

"We had a great crowd, and we had a great crowd last week against Tennessee, and that makes a huge difference," Fox said. "Disappointed that someone gave their seats to a blue shirt over there in the first row, but really proud of kids wearing red and black tonight."

The crowd got rowdy in the second half, but Goodwin said it was a non-factor.

"Man, that does not bother us," Goodwin said. "We've been through so many crowds, packed-out houses, T-shirt nights. The crowd is not a factor. That's never a factor when we play. It's just us as a team coming together. And once something happens, a couple of our guys put their head down. They put their head down, that's when things go down for us. No matter who makes a mistake or not, if we just keep our heads up and continue to battle, everything will be fine. That's all we have to do is battle."



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