Calipari says Cats still searching for will to win

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 30, 2012 

  • Baylor at Kentucky

    When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

    TV: CBS-27

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

    Records: Kentucky 4-2, Baylor 4-2

    Series: Kentucky leads 7-0

    Last meeting: Kentucky won 82-70 on March 25, 2012, in Atlanta in the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.

After digesting the Thursday night loss at Notre Dame, Kentucky Coach John Calipari made the most basic of athletic requests: Try hard.

"The one thing they have to bring is a competitive spirit and a will to win," Calipari said of his players Friday. "I'll help them with all the other stuff."

As he did in the news conference immediately after the 64-50 loss at Notre Dame, Calipari lamented how the Irish played harder than UK. Notre Dame got loose balls and offensive rebounds. Notre Dame acted. The Cats reacted.

"A will to win and a competitive spirit is what we're fighting for right now," Calipari said. "When our fans watch these kids play, either they fight like heck and you cheer. Or they're not going to fight like heck. They're going to get beat to balls. They're going to get beat to offensive rebounds."

The first test of this either/or comes Saturday afternoon when Kentucky plays Baylor. A second game within 48 hours is coming too soon for Calipari's liking to reflect the kind of corrective measures he intends.

"I wish I had nine days (between games)," Calipari said. "But we don't."

The UK coach looked forward to the Dec. 5-14 period when the Cats have only one game.

"Then we have time to really get this right," Calipari said.

Calipari spoke of the idea of playing big men Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein together more often. He bemoaned how UK defenders left Irish shooters open "left and right" to attempt shots from the corners. He noted too many attempts to score one-on-one rather than as a unit. "We kind of separated a little bit," he said.

He talked of Archie Goodwin moving from point guard to shooting guard for longer stretches of games.

"The issue becomes you've got to get him up court at times, which is a dilemma," Calipari said of Goodwin.

Goodwin is UK's best player in transition. Calipari compared him to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who gobbled up fast-break ground last season.

But Goodwin is also a taller, rangier defender at point guard than other UK options: Jarrod Polson and Ryan Harrow.

Notre Dame made several three-point shots over another freshman, Alex Poythress. Afterward, Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey noted the difficult transition Poythress must make from high school power player to perimeter defender in college.

But Calipari disagreed. He cited Poythress not playing defense diligently throughout a 35-second shot clock. Instead, the freshman relaxed for a moment and got caught fighting through a screen rather than staying close to his man.

"The thing he and a few of the guys have to crack is you have to play hard the whole time you're on the court," Calipari said. "You don't stop."

Calipari included himself in handing out do-better advisements. He second-guessed the time he spent recently on various in-game situations involving time and score.

"I probably worked on situations too soon," he said. "See, there is no situation where you're down 15. ... We worked on situations and got away from competitive spirit. We're not ready to move forward yet (on situational work)."

Besides not getting loose balls and offensive rebounds, the lack of competitive spirit complicates the coach's ability to judge a team's progress, Calipari said.

"It's hard for me to evaluate if you don't compete," he said. "Because I really don't know if our pick-and-roll defense is bad or did you just not compete?"

Calipari scoffed at the notion that the enthusiastic atmosphere at Notre Dame stunned Kentucky's freshman-dependent team. After the game, Julius Mays spoke of how the Cats were "a little shellshocked" early in the game.

"Maybe," Calipari said before adding, "You came to Kentucky. I mean, you're going to get shellshocked? Then you're going to get shellshocked every road game we play, then."

Calipari said he considered ordering UK players to stay on the court after the final buzzer to witness the Notre Dame fans and students gathering on the court to celebrate the victory over Kentucky.

"Do you understand every road game this is going to happen?" the UK coach said. "... Because you're at Kentucky. You shouldn't have come here if you didn't know that."

Calipari took no solace in suggestions that his previous teams improved as seasons unfolded. "I don't have a magic wand," he said.

"They have to learn to accept where they are. Then you've got to fall in love with the work. You've got to fall in love with practice, with the conditioning. ...

"Then you'll get better."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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