John Clay: Calipari trying to warm up his bench-warmers

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 12, 2011 

Back against Winthrop on Dec. 22, Doron Lamb came off the bench to break Kentucky's freshman scoring record with 32 points.

Tuesday night, Terrence Jones came off the bench to break Kentucky's freshman scoring record with 35 points.

Maybe Saturday, against LSU, John Calipari could bring Brandon Knight off the bench and statisticians can take an eraser to that record book a third time.

Just kidding.

It's the rest of Kentucky's bench that Calipari is worried about.

"It's on," said the Kentucky coach, but we'll get to what he meant by that later.

Jones was on Tuesday, hitting 11 of 17 shots, making four of five three-pointers on the way to his record-setting performance in the Cats' 78-54 victory over undermanned Auburn at Rupp.

Not that this was an easy game. Sure, the Tigers are turrible, as Auburn alum Charles Barkley might say. They scored six points in the first half last time out, in an eventual 62-55 loss to LSU. Kentucky was expected to win, and win big, even if Auburn Coach Tony Barbee once played for Cal, and coached under Cal and is still great friends with Cal.

Kentucky did win big, though not as big as some might have expected. The final was right on the 24-point spread. Auburn came within one of matching the Cats in rebounds, 39-38. The Tigers shot 42.9 percent — good by their standards — in the second half. They were only outscored 37-33 the second 20 minutes.

"I thought he did a lot of things to keep his team in the game," Calipari said afterward of his friend on the other bench.

But the Kentucky coach wasn't all that happy afterward. If you count that super sixth man — Lamb in every other game; Jones on Tuesday — as a virtual starter, then the coach still isn't getting what he wants out of the rest of that four-man bench.

Eloy Vargas played all of nine minutes and didn't score a point. Jon Hood saw some rare first-half action but ended up playing just six minutes and did not score. Stacey Poole didn't make it on the floor until the final four minutes. Jarrod Polson entered with under a minute remaining.

Thing is, Calipari has been spending more time himself with all four, especially Vargas, Hood and Poole.

"It isn't working," he cracked Tuesday. "But it's early."

Cal said they've had four workouts.

"One of them, and I won't tell you which one, after 15 minutes threw up," Calipari said. "That's where they are right now. They're far behind."

Cal said it's a lack of conditioning, lack of toughness, lack of defining the things that they need to work on.

"I'm also going to be hard on them," Calipari said. "If you can't take me, how are you going to go in a high-level game on national television and make a tough play?"

Let's face it, the Cats are going to need at least one of those players to make a tough play. There's no Enes Kanter. And there's going to be foul trouble, or injuries, or someone is having an off night. An off night at Tennessee, or at Vanderbilt, or at Florida.

Calipari said he played a six-man rotation at UMass and made the Final Four in 1996. But this is 2011, and this is the SEC, where the games tend to be slower, be more of a grind, be more physical.

Just look at UK's loss at Georgia last Saturday. The key word afterward was: physical.

"What's happened is, the things that we've talked about, that we've worked on, when they go in the game, they're not doing them," Calipari said. "Those exact things. Because they're not habits yet. They have those other habits.

"But like I said, my whole mind-set is Stacey and Jon Hood and Eloy are going to help us before this season is over," Calipari said.

"It's on. That's how I'm looking at it."

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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