Cats' rout leaves room for doubt

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 25, 2009 

CANCUN, Mexico — A television timeout with 6:43 left and your team ahead by 22 points. That seemed like a time to think about the beach and a post-game beverage.

Yet Kentucky Coach John Calipari could be heard throughout the Galactic Ballroom re-enacting the Big Bang by shooting angry radiation at his team.

"I'm not worrying about the score," he said after UK beat Cleveland State 73-49 in the Cancun Challenge semifinals on Tuesday. "I'm worrying about playing the right way."

This clearly wasn't it.

Calipari tried to jump-start UK early by inserting his best blue collar player, Ramon Harris.

By halftime, with the Cats dominating around the basket yet stuck in an eight-point game in part because of turnovers, Calipari previewed his late-game tirade with some jalapeno-hot rhetoric.

"He said anything, whatever comes off the top of his head, cuss words or not," John Wall said. "... We thought we'd walk through the game and not play hard."

Calipari got a response in the second half when UK outscored Cleveland State 38-22.

The UK coach set a tone by benching All-America candidate Patrick Patterson 64 seconds into the second half after Patterson limped to the bench.

Afterward, Calipari seemed to question his big man's willingness to play with pain, and he wondered about the toughness of his entire team.

"If you're limping, you come out," Calipari said about Patterson. "Let somebody else play. All of a sudden, we're up 16, 18. I then just said, if that's what the deal is, we'll just stay where we are, and you rest your ankle."

UK broke open the game with a 19-4 run early in the second half. Cleveland State made only two of its first 14 second-half shots. But what concerned Vikings Coach Gary Waters was disparity in fouls. When the foul totals reached seven on his Vikings and none for UK not yet four minutes into the second half, Waters got the referees' attention and pointed repeatedly to the scoreboard.

Beyond giving Kentucky free throws, Waters said, the fouls diluted his team's intensity.

"It's hard to play when everybody's in foul trouble," he said, "and they became very tentative."

Pushing around UK? Just our style, Waters said.

Ditto for forcing turnovers with in-your-face defense. The UK backcourt's tender years and turnover-prone play wasn't coincidental.

Waters saw UK's physical play around the basket as telling. With Cleveland State not getting much inside, the Vikings made 26.6 percent of their shots. Most memorably, star guard Norris Cole drove and then turned his back to the defender and flipped up a wild shot that had no chance of going in the basket.

"Norris usually drives and penetrates and gets to the basket," Waters said. "That was eliminated. Then you had no interior scoring for us."

But future opponents will be as big or bigger than UK. Opposing front lines will surely be more experienced.

Calipari saw trouble down the road.

"We started the game, again, by getting outmuscled and outhustled," the UK coach said. " ... We're setting ourselves up for failure."

By allowing the opponent to set a roughneck tone, UK gives future opponents ideas.

"Every team knows to come in and throw us around," Calipari said. "Well, we're setting ourselves up for failure. ... I'm looking at us, and we're not right. It's a team that's not going to have success when we go into league play against better opponents."

Wall, who led UK with 15 points and six assists (and, alas, five turnovers), recoiled at the thought of opponents thinking they can push around the Cats.

"They can think that if they want to," he said. "I ain't going to be soft. I'll throw a 'bow (elbow) or two."

In this game, Calipari credited three-pointers by freshman Jon Hood and Josh Harrellson late in the half for bailing out the Cats. Between those shots, UK committed four turnovers in five trips downcourt to keep Cleveland State within striking distance.

"We got beat to every 50-50 ball," Calipari said. "We got balls jerked from our hands.

"It's more than just winning a ball game. It's playing the right way and doing things we're going to have to do against top competition to be in the game.

"If we do get it and play with great intensity, all of a sudden we can become one of those (top) teams. We just don't have any consistency right now."

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service