John Calipari 'Disappointed' Kentucky Failed to Qualify for 2021 NCAA Tournament

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2021

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

It is championship-or-bust for the Kentucky Wildcats every season, and expectations are high for a reason.

After all, the program has 17 Final Fours and eight national championships and consistently lands highly regarded recruits, especially under head coach John Calipari. That's what makes this season's 9-16 mark so shocking.

"I'm disappointed in the record, but not disappointed in these kids," Calipari told reporters following Thursday's 74-73 loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tournament. "We weren't what we thought we could be in different spots, but we'll address that when this winds down."

Kentucky had an opportunity to win and prolong its NCAA tourney chances, but two free throws from Mississippi State's Iverson Molinar and a missed three-pointer from Dontaie Allen on the other end sealed its fate.

Coming close but falling short was a theme for the Wildcats this season.

"We were a couple of wins away from being a team; even with a bad record, we were right there," Calipari said. "But at the end of the day, you've gotta win games and you've gotta be tough and you've got to play winning basketball. ... We were never able to get fully engaged in that."

Kentucky lost critical practice time before the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could have helped a team that returned only sophomore forward Keion Brooks Jr. develop together.

Brooks and Terrence Clarke also missed significant time with injuries.

Still, the Wildcats were an ugly 1-6 before SEC play even started and lost to rival Louisville for just the third time in 14 games since the 2008-09 campaign. It was inconsistent during the conference season with an 8-9 record, which was nowhere near good enough to make up for the slow start.

Kentucky will miss the Big Dance for the first time since 2013 (not counting last season when it was canceled) and ends the season as arguably the biggest disappointment in all of college basketball.