Maui Invitational

Experience could mean sink or swim for Cats

Cats 'trying to figure things out'

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 22, 2010 

LAHAINA, Maui, Hawaii — Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar used the analogy of a swimmer drowning or a boxer getting hit with a haymaker when explaining the difference experience can make.

"If a boxer loses his form and starts wildly swinging, he's going to get knocked out," Romar said Sunday at a news conference for coaches leading teams in this year's EA Sports Maui Invitational. "He's going to get knocked out.

"If you feel you're drowning, you forget your form," he said. "You start panicking, you're going to drown."

The experienced teams in this Maui Invitational — Michigan State, Washington and Wichita State — presumably have the advantage if things go wrong here. Inexperienced teams — such as Kentucky — don't.

"An opposing team goes up, you forget your basic foundation of what you're supposed to be," Romar said of inexperienced teams. "You get blown out. Freshmen don't know that a lot of times. Older players do."

Perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek, Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun tabbed Michigan State, a team blessed with Final Four experience, as an overwhelming favorite.

"Obviously, Michigan State should win going away," Calhoun said as a smiling (and wincing) Spartans Coach Tom Izzo sat nearby. "Tommy has one of the best teams I've seen in 20 or 30 years."

Calhoun did not mention experience — nor a favorite's role — in a needling salute to Kentucky.

"John (Calipari) has got more talent than the Celtics," the UConn coach said. "The rest of us scrap for the pieces."

Kentucky's opponent in Monday's first round, Oklahoma, is not a veteran-laden team, either.

The Sooners have only three players returning from last season, the lone senior being guard Cade Davis. Coach Jeff Capel called playing in the Maui Invitational "a daunting challenge."

As for Calipari, he repeated his mantra that Maui serves as a learning experience to springboard into the season.

"Holes that we have will be exploited by these gentlemen up here," Calipari said of the fellow Maui coaches seated at a news conference head table. "We'll really find out what it is we have to work on to really be competitive."

Calipari brushed off questions about depth, a seemingly big issue for a 10-man Kentucky team. It means something in the Maui format that calls for games on three successive days.

"We're going to use more depth than we normally would," the UK coach said.

But long-term, Calipari saw no reason for alarm. He checked the schedule and saw no stressful stretches of games, not even a Thursday night-Saturday afternoon swing. "So we're in good shape there," he said.

Given the caliber of competition, Calipari saw the possibility of a different style of game than his kiddie Cats have experienced so far this season. Kentucky had its way in dispatching East Tennessee State 88-65 and Portland 79-48. The toughness he's talked about and sought to develop this early season might be a needed asset in Maui.

"One of the things we worked on was grinding a game out," said Calipari, who noted that a "good friend" had saluted the good shooting at Portland Friday (54.9 percent overall, 44.4 percent from three-point range), but wondered about how the Cats would fare in a possession-by-possession test of wills.

"We have our grind-it-out stuff in," Calipari said. "If we have to grind it, we've used it in games. We have a couple different ways to do that. ... We may have to make this a 32-minute game.

"We play fast. If it's not there, we grind. We'll see. We're trying to figure things out."

Even his more experienced teams at Memphis and UMass had grind-it-out tactics ready in case of foul trouble or other emergencies, said Calipari, who defined one such tactic as "screening the crap out of people."

Meanwhile, Izzo laughed off Calhoun's surrender to Michigan State's experience by throwing a good-natured needle back at the UConn coach.

"They don't like the pressure, so they throw it on me," Izzo said. "Calhoun, you'd think, a guy who've won so much as he has wouldn't be a coward."

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