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When asked what went wrong in Monday's 60-54 NCAA championship game loss to Connecticut, Kentucky head coach John Calipari took the first bullet.
"I needed to do a couple more things to get them over the hump," Calipari said. "They fought and tried. I wish I had an answer for them late in the game."
It was a smooth move for a coach who has no equal when it comes to being smooth with recruits.
Leading a team that started five freshmen, Calipari shouldered responsibility for their inconsistent play throughout the regular season.
Then came the NCAA tournament and the Wildcats were rolling: Physically overpowering more experienced teams, getting to the foul line often, getting their opponent into foul trouble and then hitting the shots they needed to hit.
Not so against Connecticut.
Problems for Kentucky started before the game. The Wildcats' most consistent player, Julius Randle, seemed to be laboring in warmups and was taken out less than three minutes into the game.
When the game started, Connecticut threw the first punch. The Huskies outscored Kentucky 24-9 during a 10-minute stretch to take a 30-15 lead, the biggest deficit the Wildcats faced in the tournament.
"They're freshmen; they were rattled," Calipari said. "Then they settled down and started playing."
Calipari went to a 2-3 zone and that steadied the young Wildcats, who finished the first half on a 16-5 run to pull within four.
"I thought at halftime we were going to win this game," Calipari said. "We hung in there and we had our chances."
When Aaron Harrison hit a 3-pointer to start the second half, it seemed like Calipari would be correct. When James Young's power dunk over the entire Connecticut defense started an 8-0 spurt, the Kentucky run to the lead seemed inevitable.
HIGHLIGHT: Kentucky slams an earthquake of a dunk! (by ) -- NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness)
The Wildcats had 12 second-half possessions in which they could have tied the game or taken their first lead. In those trips, the Wildcats shot 1-for-9 from the field and turned the ball over three times.
"We had our chance but missed the free throws and shots," Calipari said. "I wish I had a couple of more answers for them."
The team that shot the most free throws in the nation couldn't get the ball through the hoop from the foul line. Kentucky, which shot better than 70 percent in the tournament, hit only 13 of 24 free throws. On the other side, Connecticut was 10-for-10 on the way to setting an NCAA record for free-throw percentage in the tournament.
"I told them, 'You've been one of the most coachable teams I've ever had,'" Calipari said. "We marched through this thing and did some good things. I was proud to coach them."
It is likely Calipari has coached most of the players on the court Monday for the last time. Freshmen Randle, and Aaron and Andrew Harrison are possible lottery picks in the NBA draft. Fellow freshmen starters James Young and Dakari Johnson are expected to find first-round money if they leave for the NBA.
With another strong freshman class, Calipari could be back again ... .
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