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Calipari: Cats not on easy street

Delta Devils not taken lightly

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 18, 2010 

Teams traditionally soften up the schedule when final exams and the Christmas holidays can distract players. Kentucky is playing Mississippi Valley State, Winthrop, Coppin State in its next three games.

None of those three opponents has a Ratings Percentage Index better than Winthrop's No. 153.

But don't try to tell UK Coach John Calipari that he shouldn't be gulping down the valium because Kentucky has an easy series of upcoming games.

"You say that," he told a reporter on Friday. Then Calipari noted that Mississippi Valley State, which faces UK on Saturday, played Georgia to a two-point game on Nov. 12. (He left out that Georgia's best player, Trey Thompkins, did not play in that game.)

As he did before Kentucky beat East Tennessee State by 23 and Portland by 31 and Boston U by 34, Calipari noted a queasy feeling induced by the possibility of an upset.

"Now, we think this is a win," Calipari said. "I did, too, till I watched the Georgia tape. Then I had a pit in my stomach."

While noting how the Mississippi Valley coach, UK Unforgettable Sean Woods, uses pieces of the dribble-drive offense and the Delta Devils are better than their 1-8 record suggests, Calipari turned to what might be really roiling his insides: the improvement he says Kentucky must make during the semester break. He mentioned how the Cats need to talk more, play together, improve a zone defense to counter future foul trouble, develop more depth, gain a better appreciation for time-and-score factors and figure out a way to play better with a small lineup.

When asked whether he'd like to make significant progress by the start of Southeastern Conference play, Calipari preferred to set no deadlines.

"Ahh, keep moving," he said. "Dogs are barking, yet the caravan moves on.

"We are what we are right now."

If there is a deadline, it is an obvious one: the win-or-go-home time at post-season.

"I hope by March, everybody says, 'You don't want to play Kentucky because they can shoot,' " Calipari said. " 'If they're hot, you won't win. They can beat you.' "

To get from here to there, Kentucky will hope to get a boost from the break between semesters. For years, UK coaches have looked forward to those three weeks. There's no limit on the time for practice except the judgment of the coach. "Distractions" like professors and girlfriends leave campus.

"Everybody's gone," senior Josh Harrellson said. "The primary focus is on each other. There's nobody on campus, so there's no where to go."

Just what a coach wants: a captive audience.

When asked why teams can improve by leaps and dunks at semester break, Calipari said, "Because it's all basketball. I can say we'll go three-a-days. What else do we need to do? You got people to see? You got to go shopping?"

Meanwhile, three-a-days might sound like a good idea for Mississippi Valley State. But they'd have to gas up the cars to do it.

Noting that there is no on-campus gym, Woods said, "We have to travel 20 minutes away just to practice at a middle school."

The Delta Devils got help against Arkansas when big man Paul Crosby became eligible. He made one of 12 shots while scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds against the Razorbacks.

"He was a little rusty, real anxious," Woods said. ". . . Now with Paul, we get a more versatile post player that can pass, dribble and shoot and has a great feel for the game."

But, Woods added, Mississippi Valley State depends on its backcourt.

"It's all up to our guards right now," he said. "So we have to spread it out and take advantage of our strength on dribble drives or pick and rolls."

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