John Clay: Basketball Cats need more time to become good team

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 1, 2012 

Back in the off-season, when talks broke down and it was obvious there would be no grand bargain and a halt would come to the Kentucky-Indiana series, UK promised that a good opponent would replace the Hoosiers on the home schedule.

Baylor did turn out to be a good team.

Problem is, Kentucky is not a good team.

Not right now, anyway. Not on Dec. 1. Not by a long shot, and if Kentucky is doing the shooting then chances are it's going to miss.

If that wasn't obvious in Thursday night's 14-point drubbing at Notre Dame it became painfully obvious Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena as John Calipari's young Cats missed shots, turned the ball over, missed more shots, couldn't convert offensive rebounds and, oh yeah, missed some more shots.

The result was a 64-55 Baylor win and the first home loss in the Calipari era, the first home loss by a Kentucky team in 56 games, a streak that stretched all the way back to Billy Gillispie's final home game, albeit an NIT win over UNLV in Memorial Coliseum in 2009.

Someone asked freshman guard Archie Goodwin what it was like to be on the first UK team to lose a home game in four years?

"I know it's a big loss since it's the first one (Calipari) has had here since he's been here," Goodwin said. "But there's nothing we can do about it, we just have to learn from it."

Here's what we are learning: What Calipari tried to tell us is absolutely true. Last year's team is not this year's team. This year's team is not last year's team. The talent might be similar. The team part, that's not the same.

What this Kentucky team lacks, for now, is a cohesiveness that last year's team appeared to possess from the season's opening tip. That's rare. We should appreciate it. In fact, we should appreciate it probably more now than we did a year ago, even as the Cats were cutting down the nets. This year, that cohesion isn't there yet.

It was glaringly obvious on offense Saturday as the Cats shot just 29.6 percent, missed 18 of 22 three-pointers, even bricked half their free throws, going 9-for-18.

True, ball after endless ball seemed to touch every part of the rim before falling out. And yet you had the feeling that even the shots that barely missed, that looked like they were in the bottom of the net before popping back out, were of the forced variety.

"Our shot selection stunk," Calipari said.

More worrisome: Kentucky grabbed a boatload of offensive rebounds, 21 on the afternoon. In fact, Calipari's club collected 40 percent of its offensive rebound opportunities. That's a high percentage. And yet Kentucky scored just six second-chance points. That's a low percentage.

"We are not very strong," Calipari said. "We got the ball. We couldn't get it in the basket."

So we ended up with a lot of firsts and since when(s). It was the first Calipari loss in Rupp. It was the lowest shooting percentage in the Calipari era. It was the lowest UK shooting percentage since a 73-46 loss at Kansas way back in 2006. It was the fewest points by UK in a home game since 2006.

It was the lowest three-point shooting percentage (18.2 percent) by a Kentucky team that took more than 20 threes since that first Calipari team missed 28 of 32 in that excruciating loss to West Virginia in the 2010 Elite Eight.

"We actually started slow (my first season)," said Calipari of that very team. "I mean, we should have lost seven games. We should have last to Miami (Ohio), we should have lost to Stanford. I can go on — right? — all you people in here, right? That's why I kept saying, we are 9-7, we are not 16-0. ... But (this year) we also could have lost to Maryland. So this team could be 3-4 versus 4-3. We also could have lost to Morehead. Morehead had us on the ropes.

"But, look, I'm fine. I mean, I'm not fazed. I knew we weren't very good."

Not right now. This isn't a five-alarm fire. It's a young team playing young. There will be more good times ahead. The question will be how long it takes to get there.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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