Cats show improvement, but Calipari wants more

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 4, 2013 

  • 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

With the regular season about to enter its final month, Kentucky Coach John Calipari spoke of his latest freshman-dependent team as still fundamentally unsettled. And that's a generous description of his appraisal.

"We're getting better," he said Monday. "But we've been in flux the whole season. We have not been able to say, 'This is who we are. So let's just get better at what we are.'"

Consequently, Kentucky has struggled, relatively speaking, with a 15-6 record (6-2 in the Southeastern Conference) going into Tuesday's game against visiting South Carolina.

"It's put us in positions where we're not as confident in each other," Calipari said. "They don't believe in each other as much as they should. We just have not been together like that."

When a reporter noted that the season was in February, Calipari said, "All I know is we're getting better and now hopefully we'll start growing. But I don't know."

When asked about what identity this UK team was capable of establishing, Calipari said, "It's still developing. So I don't know."

To describe the Cats, Calipari used a word that's anathema to almost every athlete. He said the Cats were "soft." Or, to be precise, he said physical opponents make Kentucky appear wimpish.

"We're working on it every day," he said. "We've got guys who don't want that type of game. Till you relish playing in that type of game, you're going to look like you're passive, soft, whatever you want to say."

Calipari never mentioned any names. But when asked during the SEC coaches' teleconference about Alabama's guards, he noted his admiration for the University of Miami guards. "Miami guards are men," he pronounced.

Then turning to the question about Alabama, he said Trevor Releford and Trevor Lacey "drive that team. Guess what? They do it in physical ways. They're not afraid of contact. They want the game to be a roughhouse game."

As another example of aggressive, assertive, hard-nosed play, Calipari cited a player who at 6-foot-2, 176 pounds is hardly physically imposing: Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin.

"He relishes that type of game," Calipari said of Wilbekin. "It all starts right there with him."

On the SEC coaches teleconference and a later brief meeting with reporters on campus, Calipari did not say Ryan Harrow's name when discussing toughness — or lack thereof. But Harrow's ears probably should have been burning.

Harrow had five turnovers at Texas A&M last weekend. As UK committed six turnovers and got outscored 10-2 in the final three minutes of regulation, its starting point guard was part of a series of offense/defense substitutions.

When asked about Harrow's seeming regression, Calipari said, "I don't know. I don't know. (We're) just going to keep working with him."

Calipari became more expansive when talking about how A&M got physical with Kentucky, especially in the final minutes of the second half.

"Why are we turning it over?" he said. "We're soft (pause) with the ball. So you just come down and throw it away. You don't have that toughness."

Harrow's four-game leave of absence in November didn't help Kentucky's ability to coalesce so far this season. Nor did the lack of a veteran presence.

The absence of 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein rippled the water recently. After missing four games because of a "minor procedure" on his left knee, he got his competitive feet wet again by playing four minutes at Texas A&M.

Calipari pronounced Cauley-Stein ready to resume playing on a full-time basis.

An increased role for Cauley-Stein will mean fewer minutes for someone.

Calipari noted how Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer deserved to play more minutes. So, he added, Harrow and/or Archie Goodwin "probably" would play fewer minutes.

"And Nerlens (Noel) deserves to play," he added. "He needs to be on the floor. You can't say, 'Well, I'm going to take 15 minutes from Nerlens.' (It) ain't happening."

As if speaking to Harrow and Goodwin, Calipari said, "What that means is, 'All right, you aren't getting it done. You aren't getting it done. You've got to step back.

"But Willie's also got to perform. He's got to play like he's capable. And he's fine to go."

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

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