Calipari foresees more close games in SEC

Kentucky Coach foresees plenty of tough games ahead

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 21, 2011 

Here's a sobering thought: Alabama, which led Kentucky by 20 points in the second half Tuesday, held on to win by two. The rest of UK's schedule makes the Tide look like relatively easy pickings.

According to, all but one of Kentucky's opponents the rest of the season have a better Ratings Percentage Index than Alabama's No. 143. That exception is Mississippi State, which added point guard Dee Bost and highly touted freshman Renardo Sidney this month, thus making its RPI of 183 misleading.

The Sagarin ratings also suggest the remaining 12 regular-season games on Kentucky's schedule will be challenging. Of those 12 games, 11 are against teams in the top 100.

So far, the Cats have played nine teams in the Sagarin top 100. UK had a record of 5-4 in those games.

No wonder in his post-Alabama game remarks Coach John Calipari emphasized the need for crisp execution. Crunching the and Sagarin numbers suggest the margin for error will not be great the rest of the way.

Lamenting UK's two turnovers in the final minute and a botched attempt at a Laettner-like miracle at the buzzer, Calipari said, "Those were the plays we will show on the tape and say, 'This is why you lose ball games when they are close.'

"And we are going to be in a lot of close games."

Calipari echoed the sentiment on his weekly radio show on Wednesday. "The next 12 are all like Alabama and Georgia," he said, referring to Kentucky's losses on the Southeastern Conference road this season. "They're all going to come down to the last four minutes."

The loss at Alabama showed again that depth remains an issue for Kentucky. Not only does UK go no deeper than six players in terms of reliable production, Calipari can little afford to bench a starter as a means of teaching him a lesson.

"We had some guys who couldn't play in this game," Calipari said.

Other than Terrence Jones, UK's bench play consisted of four minutes by Jon Hood and three by Eloy Vargas. The only numbers on those two players' stat lines were a missed three-pointer by Hood and a turnover by Vargas.

Yet Kentucky has not consistently played like a team staring at a possible defeat. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight acknowledged that shortcoming in Tuscaloosa.

"We didn't come out with the intensity that we needed to," he said, "and they (Alabama) came out fighting, ready to play, going after loose balls, coming up with 50-50 balls. ...

"They wanted it more than we did."

Alabama (11-7) definitely wanted it. Like Georgia in the SEC opener, the Tide saw beating Kentucky as a way to get respect.

"It's probably the biggest win of the season so far because people doubted us as a team," big man JaMychal Green said. "And we're showing them that we can play anybody and we're a legitimate team. It's just a great win for the program."

On his radio show, Calipari said he's spending too much time trying to bring emotion and passion out of his players.

The UK coach also noted that players do not follow instructions.

"I'm getting too many explanations," he said. "Do what we ask you to do."

Apparently, that didn't happen often enough at Alabama. "We took a lot of bad shots," Calipari said after the game. "Just took a lot of bad shots, a lot of throws to the basket. ...

"We're not committed yet. Guys are content. If they get minutes and shots, they're content. Versus committed to do what they're supposed to do to win ball games. That will to win we had a year ago, we don't have that will to win."

But Calipari again said that Kentucky can get on a roll no matter the greater degree of difficulty that lies ahead.

"We have time," he said. "We're a young team."

Assistant coach John Robic, who substituted for Calipari in the second half of the radio show, echoed the can-do sentiment.

"This is who we are," he said in dismissing a caller's hope that football All-American Randall Cobb could ride to the rescue. "We'll piece it together."

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