Here’s what John Calipari had to say after Kentucky’s stunning loss to Saint Peter’s

Silas Walker/swalker@herald-leader.com

Kentucky suffered a shocking exit from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night, losing to Saint Peter’s in overtime by the score of 85-79. The Wildcats’ season is now finished, and they’re just the 10th team in tournament history to lose to a 15 seed in the first round.

Oscar Tshiebwe turned in another stellar performance, recording 30 points and 16 rebounds in what could be his last game as a Kentucky player. UK’s starting backcourt of Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington and Kellan Grady all struggled, with Grady and Washington combining to go 3-for-19 from the field and Wheeler committing six turnovers.

Here’s everything Kentucky Coach John Calipari had to say after the upset loss to the Peacocks, with the attention soon turning to who will leave and who will stay on this UK team:

Opening statement: “Sad day. Not just we lose a game. It’s that this season ended with this group and how much joy they brought to me and our staff. And I’ll just say one thing; that you have an eight-point lead, and I’m a guy that’s been through a lot of these, you have an eight-point lead with three minutes to go, you win the game.

“So I really don’t need to know, well, this guy did that and that guy did this and this and this and this. We had an eight-point lead with three-some to go. I’m not taking away from Saint Peter’s. They deserved to win the game. They fought the entire time.

“But that’s how I feel about it; that, you know, these guys put us in a position to win the game. Let’s finish it off.”

Q. This isn’t the first game where down the stretch of a possession-by-possession game, it didn’t go as well as you wanted. Is there a link there? Why do you think that was a problem area?

“You know, I think, again, my whole thing coming in, because I knew they had never played in this stuff, was to get them free and loose, and we never got to that. Never.

“And you know, even in time-outs, I was trying to do that, and — but we made, up eight, you know, we just didn’t do the things we normally have done. But I come back to, when you’re up eight with three minutes to go, you figure out how to win the game. That’s your job as a coach.

“You know, we had some guys that had not played the way they had been playing, and you know, you look back and say, could we have put Bryce in, could we have put Davion in, just try something. But the game, it was a touch-and-go game, and then it’s not fair for those kids to be put in that position and do something that hurts our season.

“But hindsight when you are coaching, could have done this, could have done that; at the end of the day, I’ve been in these situations, and the hard thing is because we — the thing I talked about, we got injured and we never kind of went back. So I may have been trying to coach a team that I coached a month ago. And we had some guys that weren’t playing like they were a month ago.

“But I come back to, this was an unbelievable group. Just picked a bad day to not make a shot, and you know, we are trying to throw it to Oscar every time. That’s how we played. I mean, he’s — you know, just, OK, come down and throw it to Oscar.

“I feel bad for the guys, because I mean, they are taking it hard. They know, you guys ask Kellan a question that’s, you know, tough for these kids. They know what they did and how they did it, but I also say, I’m going to say this again, an eight-point lead with three minutes to go, let’s go. Let’s win this thing. And you know, a couple errors to make the game close, you know, they went zone. Couldn’t get them to throw the ball to the middle. I mean, we had not had that issue against any zone we played. But we did today.

“So give Saint Peter’s credit.”

Q. You mentioned that you were trying to get these guys to play free but down the stretch when you were up eight and Saint Peter’s started mounting that comeback, could you sense nerves were a real factor?

“It was the whole game. It wasn’t just then. I took guys out because they wouldn’t shoot the ball. I did that about three times. If you don’t shoot it, I’m taking you out. They wouldn’t shoot; I had to take them out. I had to do that three times. I said, I don’t care if you make it, understand that Oscar is under the basket and if you miss it, he’ll get it. But if you drive into nine guys, you throw something where he’s got four guys on him, it’s hard.

“But again, this was probably something they never felt in their lives. And that’s why I wish I had some answers with three minutes to go to help them through it to get by the first one. But I tell you what, we missed shots, and Saint Peter’s made shots. They made threes. They made layups; we missed. They made free throws; we missed. It’s one of those games that I was hoping I could get it by them to get them on to the next game to get their feet underneath them, and obviously I didn’t do a very good job with it.”

Q. You talk about “what-ifs.” For a lot of people, one of those will be Shaedon and why he didn’t play. Was there a point after you made that decision where he looked ready to contribute and was it clear he couldn’t have helped you even if he wanted to play?

“At one point, he and I sat down and talked about it. But you know, I think that was what was best for him is how we did it. Would he have been a good player this year? Yeah, he’d been pretty good. He’d have been pretty good. But he joined us midseason. Trying to get him up to all the stuff that we were doing was hard.

“Then it came a point late, maybe we could shove him in there. But we just, you know, together, chose, let’s just wait.”

Q. Oscar put up incredible numbers again tonight. You’ve talked about what he’s meant to the team. But have you had a chance in the last few minutes to reflect on what he accomplished on the court and what he meant to your group this year?

“You know, I haven’t. I just saw 30 and 16, and they had five guys playing him. He’s done something that hadn’t been done in a long time, and he made everybody better.

“Now, you may not believe this, but we led our league in three-point shooting. A lot of that opened up the court for him. But when you’re not making any shots, it makes it even tougher for him.

“But you just heard him. I mean, so thoughtful and such a great kid. He and I will sit down in the next day or two to figure out what path is for him. But I’ll tell you this: You talk about a pleasure to coach, this whole team. I mean, like I’m sick right now for them. Just disappointed that, you know, I wish I had an answer or two. I just do.

“You know, it’s just hindsight, you can’t — you can play that game all you want. But give Saint Peter’s credit. And I watched the tapes. Let me tell you, I was worried going into the game. I wasn’t showing anybody. I was whistling and skipping and dancing and we can’t wait.

“But I’m like, ooohh, they rebound. I mean, they rebounded with us. Now, Oscar had his but they rebounded. Everybody else for them rebounded. You know, some things happened. Like they said, we are a good defensive team. We weren’t — and let’s give them credit. Backdoored us to death and beat us on the bounce, and made threes coming off screens, and they played well.

“Shaheen has done a great job. I told him prior to the game, “The job you’ve done with this team,” and what I’ve seen, how they play, their structure, he’s done a great job.”

Q. You mentioned the nerves, the shell-shock that was going on with some of those guys that have not been in this moment. As the minutes kept going and Saint Peter’s kept coming, going ... with the coaching staff, as it got tight in the end and you could see in these guys eyes that they were nervous —

“We were in every timeout trying to encourage. ‘You’re going to be fine; we’ve just got to make a play.’

“You know, at one point with five minutes to go, one of the guys got on a guy and said, ‘Stop, there’s five minutes, just be positive. Just leave it alone. Just be positive.’

“And so we were trying to help them get through it. Obviously didn’t do the kind of job we needed to.”

Q. This may be farfetched with you, I wonder if Saint Peter’s reminds you of some of your UMass teams in terms of going after it and we may be the underdog, but we are taking it to you, that sort of stuff.

“They do. Undersized, but fought. Athletic enough to play bigger guys. And played the way I played and coached at UMass, which is a little slower. We grinded out a little more. Tried to have five guys in double figures. You know, some of my team shot the ball pretty well, Carmelo and some of the guys that were really good shooters.

“So just disappointed. I’m disappointed for our fans, because I know they are here en masse and they were shell-shocked like we all were, but I would tell them, we have got the greatest fans; that they travel, and we hate letting them down. I do as a coach and I know these players do.

“But you know, we just — don’t take away from what these kids did. This was really disappointing, devastating. But this team brought a lot of joy to a lot of us. Just hate that it ends this way. Thanks.”