John Clay: Wildcats not flexing all their muscle

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 19, 2013 

By March, it should be a knockout room, well-furnished and well-decorated with plenty of impressive pieces on display.

Right now, however, there's plenty of room for improvement.

Such is Kentucky basketball five games into this 2013-14 season after the Cats rolled past Texas-Arlington 105-76 at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night.

UK improved to 4-1 and won by 29 points, and the Cats were never really threatened.

And yet, and yet ...

"I'm coaching them hard right now," John Calipari said. "You can be mad or sad or whatever you want to be, but that's the way it is."

In these types of games, against an inferior foe, on your home floor, winning isn't everything because winning is almost a given.

After all, the Sun Belt school opponent came to Rupp 2-2 having lost to Cleveland State and Boise State.

And yet the Mavericks outrebounded Kentucky 21-17 in the first half, the same UK that outrebounded the perennial rebounding machine that is Michigan State last week in Chicago.

"You Basketball Bennies, what was I getting on them about?" Calipari asked the media afterward. "Was it shots?"

"Effort," volunteered a few psychics in the press corps.

"Yeah, effort," said Calipari.

Second half, Kentucky picked it up considerably on the glass and beat the Mavericks on the boards by 16.

"I imagine Coach Calipari got on them," UTA coach Scott Cross said. "They mashed us in the second half."

Then there were the drives to the basket. Smaller, quicker, the Mavericks drove right around Kentucky defenders on multiple occasions, especially the UK guards.

Luckily, the Cats' length often made up for the defensive lapses. "Block party," Cross called it.

And yet, you don't really want to give up that many drives to the basket, especially when you will face better competition down the road.

"We stopped," Calipari said. "We had guys standing up."

The coach also wasn't happy with his team's lack of communication. It was too quiet on the floor, he said. In fact, often the only times the players talked was when they made excuses after mistakes.

"We have to talk more," Calipari said.

There were plenty of good things. In something of a shooting slump, James Young got off to a hot start and finished with 26 points. Calipari said the staff had been working with Young's form on his shots, and it showed.

"He needs to get in the gym more," Calipari said.

Marcus Lee started again and provided plenty of first-half bounce on the way to 10 points.

Julius Randle produced his fifth double-double — 22 points, 10 rebounds — in his fifth college game.

"He's a man-child," UTA's Cross said.

And yet ...

"I didn't think Julius had one of his better games," Calipari said.

Willie Cauley-Stein had his first double-double of the season, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but Calipari was sure to mention a couple of bad shots that the sophomore took in the first half, including an air ball.

That's the thing: The team is playing well right now, but it could play so much better.

Example: Alex Poythress. After a hot start, the sophomore has slowed considerably.

"He's had a couple of bad practices," Calipari said.

There is plenty of time for practice between now and the next game, Monday night against Cleveland State.

To sum it up, Calipari wants more energy, more talking, more effort and more execution.

And, oh yeah, Kentucky won by 29.

Room for improvement, yes, but it could end up being some kind of room.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: jclay@herald-leader.com. Blog: Johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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

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