Kentucky's 'too cool' approach leads Calipari to bring the heat

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 5, 2012 

  • Saturday

    Portland at Kentucky

    When: Noon

    TV: ESPN

"Camp Cal," that three-week emphasis on physical conditioning Kentucky Coach John Calipari promised after Tuesday's game, may be intended to strengthen the mental health of the players.

"It's all mental," freshman Willie Cauley-Stein said after UK's less-than-complete 88-56 victory over Samford. "He is trying to (give) us more mental toughness."

With Camp Cal beginning Thursday morning, Calipari also noted the mental benefits that come with the extra conditioning. Not for the first time this early season, he suggested that the Cats had gotten too full of themselves or took victory for granted.

"I think we all got intoxicated, including me, about everything that was written and said about this team," Calipari said. "I kept telling you, 'We're not that good.'

"I'm looking. 'Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we're better than I think.' Huh-uh."

While assuring reporters that this year's UK team had conditioned itself just as diligently as the 2012 national champions, Cauley-Stein acknowledged a difference in approach. The 2011-12 team got "super hyped" by emphatic dunks or hustle plays, he said. "Little tick-tack plays" revved motors. This season? Not as much.

When asked if the current Cats were too nonchalant, Cauley-Stein said, "That's what Coach Cal thinks. One of his things is we're too cool."

(Does anyone else hear an echo of Morehead State Coach Sean Woods suggesting a "sense of entitlement" among UK players?)

Calipari spoke of a cause-and-effect linking the physical demands of Camp Cal with a team more emotionally engaged.

"They will (play with more emotion) because they're going to be in better shape," he said, "and have a lot more energy to be a little more emotional."

Maybe Samford Coach Bennie Seltzer was right when he told his team that this isn't one of the better Kentucky basketball teams. He said he was merely trying to instill confidence in his team. But when pressed, he stood firm: There is no John Wall, Eric Bledsoe or DeMarcus Cousins for Kentucky this season.

Tuesday's game changed at halftime. In the first half, Kentucky dominated. A 45-14 halftime lead suggested the refreshment that comes with a thrashing of an outmanned opponent, especially after UK's trying week prior to the game: Losses to Notre Dame and Baylor dropped the Cats from No. 8 to out of The Associated Press Top 25 (the biggest such fall in the history of the media poll).

At halftime, Calipari challenged his freshman-dependent team.

"It's all that competitive mindset he's talking about," Cauley-Stein said. "At halftime, he said, 'I don't care about the score. Go out and compete.'"

To help prime the pump, Calipari reminded the reserves who played during the first half that they'd shot a collective 1-for-9.

"If we're going to make a long run in March, the bench needs (to score) 15 to 20 points," said Cauley-Stein, who had a double-double in the second half (11 points, 10 rebounds).

Meanwhile, Seltzer saw a benefit in his team's huge halftime deficit.

"There's not a whole lot of pressure," the Samford coach said. "We're just trying to keep (the margin) under 50."

Of course, Kentucky felt absolutely no pressure to perform in the second half. The Cats coasted at times, and could get away with it since their second-half lead never dwindled below 22 points. Hence, the talk of Camp Cal.

Cauley-Stein bravely noted an encourging trend. Kentucky did not compete at Notre Dame a week earlier. Then the Cats hustled against Baylor last weekend, but, alas, didn't shoot well.

Then UK overwhelmed Samford ... for a half.

"We're progressing (and) getting better and better," Cauley-Stein said. "It's going to take off from here."

If so, Calipari dangled a possible reward. He said he'd shut down Camp Cal if the Cats played a seamless 40 minutes of high-level basketball.

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

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