Even at 20-1, Calipari pushing Kentucky to be 'special'

Communication key to Cats fulfilling potential, Coach says

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 26, 2012 

  • Special uniforms for UT game

No one moved to Nemanja Djurisic after the Georgia freshman set a screen and then moved to an open spot on the three-point line. After Djurisic swished a three-pointer, Kentucky Coach John Calipari raised both hands, then opened and closed the fingers to signal his players should have talked with each other to make sure Djurisic was covered.

Even as Kentucky beat Georgia 57-44 Tuesday to improve its record to 20-1 overall and a Southeastern Conference-best 6-0, the business of coaching continued.

"You could tell I wasn't happy with some stuff," Calipari said. "I was not happy because, again, we weren't talking."

The UK coach, ever alert to the possibility of complacency setting in, noted another sequence when a Georgia player slipped free at the basket.

"They got a layup because two (UK) guys came together and didn't speak to each other," Calipari said. "C'mon, man. Just talk. 'You got him.' 'Help me.'

"You can't be a special team and be that way."

Being special is the goal Calipari has set for this Kentucky team. It trumps the gaudy record, the No. 1 national ranking. As he noted a week ago, if the Cats are ranked No. 2 nationally in field-goal defense (36.3 percent going into the Georgia game), why not strive to be No. 1?

So Darius Miller equals a season high of 19 points, and gets benched for defensive lapses.

Calipari saw Doron Lamb being tentative. Lamb also passed to teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as if setting up the freshman for a jumper. One problem: Kidd-Gilchrist excels as a driver to the basket, the optimum being a score while being fouled.

When a reporter noted how Djurisic scored over Terrence Jones, Calipari said, "Terrence has been lit up pretty good lately." How might Djurisic be contained? "Take Terrence off him," the UK coach said.

Calipari made a telling comment when asked about the push-push he gives this Kentucky team. He said he did not do the same, at least not with the same intensity, with the UK team last season.

"Last year's team, I couldn't believe we were as good as we were," he said. "I didn't have to say a whole lot.

"This year, we could be really special, and we're not right now."

Calipari dismissed the notion that the clock is ticking and it's "go time," as a reporter put it, for Kentucky to reach a special level.

"Nah," he said. "I had teams we get to February, the middle of February, we kick in. This is not football."

If it was football, Kentucky would seemingly be slotted for the BCS championship game. But no doubt the Cats would be looking to improve.

Anthony Davis and Miller endorsed the idea of getting better.

"We have a chance to be better than what we are," said Davis, whose defensive presence on a quiet offensive night earned him a blue star from Calipari. "The key is to keep working hard. Going hard in practice. Work on defense more. Talk more."

Miller echoed the thought, adding that Calipari can be expected to continue to push-push through the end of the season.

"I don't know if he ever says we play great or perfect," Miller said. "That's impossible, but that's what he's striving for. ... We expect that kind of stuff from him. We have to continue to get better."

Miller lamented a "letdown" in the second half at Georgia. UK made only 30.4 percent of its shots. Georgia stayed within the outskirts of striking distance.

"When you have a chance to step on the other team, you've got to do it," Calipari said. "We're not there yet."

Given the team's dependence on freshmen and sophomores, Kentucky has good reason not to be playing at a special level. But the players rejected that notion.

"Some people say we're too young and that we won't go as far (as desired)," Davis said. "We're trying to keep our heads on straight and play hard."

Miller noted the three Cats with Final Four experience: Jones, Lamb and himself.

"I think we have enough experience on this team," he said. "We can't use that at all. That can't be our crutch."

However the future unfolds, Calipari will keep pushing.

After noting that Miller got the ball taken away, a sequence that got him a seat on the bench, Calipari said, "I told him, 'I'm not changing. ... That's how I'm coaching.' "

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