Kentucky can sum up the national championship game this way: Going, going, gone.
The Wildcats lost to Connecticut 60-54 on Monday night, and though they wouldn’t talk about it much afterward, much of their starting lineup likely will leave for the NBA. Their coach could follow, too.
Rex Chapman, a former Kentucky guard and NBA player, tweeted three hours before tip-off that John Calipari would become the next Los Angeles Lakers head coach.
The Lakers denied the report, and Calipari did as well.
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“The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach,” said Calipari, who went 72-112 with the New Jersey Nets from 1996-99. “I’ve got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.”
Even if Calipari stays, his team won’t look anything like it did Monday night.
Julius Randle, who is from Dallas, likely has played his final game at Kentucky. He is a likely lottery pick.
Three other Wildcats freshmen project as NBA first-rounders.
Calipari, who has been on a mission to change the name of the “one-and-done” eligibility rule, joked about it after Monday’s loss without cracking much of a smile.
“These kids really fought and tried,” Calipari said. “What they accomplished, I told them, ‘This was the best group I’ve ever coached as far as really being coachable and wanting to learn.’ I’ve never coached a team this young — never. I hope I don’t ever again.
“I think all these kids are coming back, so we should be good.”
The Wildcats played seven freshmen, five of them starters, from a heralded class filled with McDonald’s All-Americans.
The Wildcats ranked first in November, with their fans wearing T-shirts that read: 40-0 and Pursuit of Perfection.
That didn’t last long.
The Wildcats lost to Michigan State 78-74 on Nov. 12.
They entered March Madness unranked and seeded eighth.
Their five tournament victories came by a combined 18 points, the narrowest margin by a team entering the title game since the field expanded in 1985. Aaron Harrison hit a game-winning 3-pointer in three consecutive games to get the Wildcats to the championship matchup.
Kentucky, though, never led against UConn.
“We have been through a lot this season,” Randle said. “How we kept fighting, and we were able to make this run just says a lot about the guys. I just hate that it ended like this.”
The future for the Kentucky freshmen starts now.
“Now that the season’s over, it is about the players,” Calipari said. “It’s no longer about the program. It’s no longer about the team. It’s about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other, for our team, and our program and our school. Season’s over. Now it’s about them. We’ll sit down with each of them, and they will make decisions for themselves.”