Cal pooh-poohs perfection

Coach sees smoke, but Cats' talent putting out fires

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 12, 2009 

With Kentucky clinging to a two-point lead against Connecticut and more than two minutes remaining, Eric Bledsoe fouled out. He needlessly fouled Kemba Walker before the UConn point guard had reached midcourt.

"What the ($%#&) are you doing?" UK Coach John Calipari could be heard yelling at Bledsoe as the freshman headed to the bench.

"I was being aggressive," Bledsoe answered.

To which, Calipari told reporters in the post-game news conference, "I didn't know what to say."

Calipari rendered speechless speaks volumes to the degree of difficulty the UK coach faces in transforming talent into an effectively functioning unit.

UK may take a 9-0 record into its first road game Saturday, at rebuilding Indiana, but Calipari continues to emphasize the long-term improvement that must occur.

His fuzzy-cheeked players agree.

When asked if talent or execution made Kentucky unbeaten in mid-December, UK's (and the country's) most ballyhooed freshman, John Wall, answered quickly.

"Right now, just talent taking over and winning the game," he said. "Like Coach Cal says, our execution is not where it's supposed to be."

Wall found it more difficult to pinpoint exactly how far along the learning curve Kentucky was.

"At times, it seems like we're doing good," he said. "At times, we're horrible."

Necessity — and defying basketball logic — helped Wall be the hero in Kentucky's 64-61 victory over UConn. Usually at crunch time, teams blessed with low-post power will go inside to increase the odds of a basket and/or free throws. UK has power players in Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton. But when needing points, the Cats go to Wall.

"Why not post Patrick and DeMarcus more? I was trying to win the game," Calipari said as he raised his voice in artificial alarm. "We had to go to John Wall to try to get baskets."

Wall delivered by scoring 12 of UK's final 15 points, including a memorable go-ahead three-point play with 30.8 seconds left.

While UK basketball fandom rejoiced, Calipari fretted.

"Well, you can't win big-time games that way," the UK coach said. "You have to be able to throw it to guys in the post. ... It's not a fadeaway (jumper)."

Calipari also cited the beginning of the UConn game as an example of a team still learning how to play.

"We go up 4-0 and we're chest-bumping," he said on Friday.

In his post-game news conference, Calipari noted the 12-0 UK lead as a juncture of severe overreaction by the Cats.

"We're celebrating like we just won the national championship," he said. "I'm trying to calm them down. Then all of a sudden Connecticut makes a run, which you know a well-coached team is going to do. Now it's on."

Over the last few days, Calipari has made a list — and probably checked it more than twice — of areas needing improvement:

■ Wall trying to do too much by himself in the first half against UConn. He finished with seven turnovers for a second straight game. To his credit, Wall said Friday that he kept asking UK assistants how many turnovers he had, so the flashy freshman is aware of the problem.

■ The guards play too fast. "You use your speed to kill them (the opponents), not us," Calipari said. "Speed kills: either them or us."

■ The big men were late to get into defensive position, resulting in fouls.

■ The big men post up standing erect rather than spreading out and having a solid base to withstand the rough stuff around the basket. "Everything we do we try to do with the upper body like, 'I'm a man,' " Calipari said.

After the UConn game, Calipari mentioned Cousins by name.

"Late in the game, I told DeMarcus Cousins, 'You're a rebounder (and) defender," Calipari said. "We're not throwing you the ball.

"What DeMarcus has got to learn is you've got to bend over to be a good post player. He wants to do it with his upper body, which means he ends up being sloppy, just throwing balls to the rim."

To make his point, Calipari referred to UK's record as 4-5 rather than 9-0. Such are the losses UK's poor execution could have created.

"I never look at Indiana as a cupcake team," Darius Miller said. "It might be one of those games that Coach says we should have lost."

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