John Clay: Calipari's challenge to get all Cats clicking at once

Cal seeking Alabama-like precision

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 15, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

KNOXVILLE — Imagine if they ever hit on all cylinders.

Imagine if they did it all at the same time.

Imagine if they did it for all 40 minutes.

Imagine a basketball game in which Anthony Davis produces a triple-double, Darius Miller chases down every 50-50 ball, Terrence Jones flows effortlessly to the bucket, Doron Lamb drills every perimeter shot, Marquis Teague makes nothing but wise decisions, and where Michael Kidd-Gilchrist plays with so much fire he might spontaneously combust.

"It'd be scary," said John Calipari on Saturday after his young team rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to beat host Tennessee 65-62.

It would be Alabama football the night of the BCS championship game, a Nick Saban machine that made all the right plays at all the right times without a single mistake, or maybe one late in the game, after the outcome was decided, but one in which the coach still gets mad because he demands perfection.

"I hit it at one of the timeouts again; I talked about Alabama football again," Calipari said. "I said look, 'They executed. They executed. The other team was going wild, talking junk, hitting, shouldering, and Alabama focused on my job. They didn't worry about the talking and all the other stuff and the hoopla.' "

That's been the Kentucky coach's fabulous new obsession since he watched Bama bash LSU Monday night.

For any coach, it was the dream game: Execution. Physical play. No mistakes. A powerful machine. Roll Tide.

Calipari has the pieces. He knows it. We know it. But the pieces aren't all working together at the same time in the same game for the same long stretches. He knows that, too.

Before a capacity crowd of 21,678 at Thompson-Boling — many dressed in blue — Davis scored a game-high 18 points, including two with 57 seconds left on a face-the-basket jumper off a post move that even the freshman admitted he had never made before.

Kidd-Gilchrist returned to being a monster-in-motion, scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, making the glorious hustle plays on both ends of the floor that helped Kentucky turn off Tennessee's faucet and hold the home team scoreless from the 6:56 mark till the Vols finally banged home a three with 37 ticks left.

"I've got a lot of heart," said Kidd-Gilchrist afterward.

Yes, Michael, we know. Boy, do we know.

The others have a lot of talent, and no doubt heart, but they don't yet possess whatever it takes to produce that consistency game after game.

"It starts with physical play," Calipari said. "If those guys will be more physical, they'll be more aggressive offensively, they'll make better plays. Simple. Everything happens from physical play."

Jones showed more signs of a consistent recovery from his December recession. The sophomore scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots before fouling out.

Calipari was complimentary of point guard Teague's defense and floor game, despite the freshman's five turnovers.

Then you look at Lamb's stat line. The sophomore made just one of seven shots, scored just four points and missed the front end of a one-and-one from the foul line with 36.1 seconds left and the Cats gripping a five-point lead.

"Not a good day for him," said Calipari.

Miller scored four points and had just one rebound in 23 minutes. He didn't commit a turnover, but he didn't have an assist, either. His last three games, Miller has 17 points and six rebounds.

"We need the other guys to step up and ball," Calipari said. "For us to win on the road with Darius and Doron going 2-for-11, and literally throwing balls at the rim thinking they were going to get hit, 2-for-11, and Terrence showed signs, but they still roughed him up, and to still win. Think about that."

Better to dream about this: The night all six play to their potential.

That would be Crimson Tide scary.

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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