Back to the basics as Kentucky prepares for Providence

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 29, 2013 

Sly tricks, guile and ulterior motives occupy John Calipari's mind as Kentucky enters the second month of this season with a game Sunday night against Providence.

In wanting the players to pass sooner, Calipari suggested there's a selfish reason for holding onto the ball.

"I told them, when I played, I knew all the tricks," he said at a news conference Friday.

Calipari said he'd throw the ball a beat late to ensure that the defense would react and force a return pass. "So I could shoot it," he said. "So I knew all the tricks."

Another trick came late in games when opponents were trying to foul. Rather than quickly pass the ball to keep the clock ticking, you hold onto the ball in hopes of getting fouled to boost your scoring average with free throws.

"So I know them when you use them," Calipari said of such guile. "I played that way. ... I couldn't guard. My guy was going to get 18 (points). I better get 22."

That sounded like Calipari was selfish.

"I was a selfish player," he said either with sincerity or to drive home his point. "So I knew what selfish looks like. Don't do what I did."

Calipari never mentioned Andrew Harrison by name, but the mind automatically focused on the point guard, the player who possesses the ball most.

Coincidentally or not, a later observation about how Willie Cauley-Stein earned the starting position by simply producing more than the high-energy Marcus Lee, Calipari included backup point guard Dominique Hawkins among players who could be starting. "But they're not playing as well as the guy in front of them," he said.

For most of the press conference, Calipari did not give the impression that any one player was key to the UK team's work-in-progress growth chart. The UK coach included himself among those that can do better.

"The problem is I go watch tape," he said. "I get 17 more thoughts in my head. I want to give (the 17) to them. And they don't have the seven thoughts I've given to them (already). That brings anxiety."

So in a universal approach for all teams that look to improve, Kentucky will take a step back in hopes of striding forward. It's back to basics.

Calipari said he now stresses such elemental concepts as effort, staying in a defensive stance, talking more, being more aggressive, fighting through screens, not stopping/observing and sprinting the floor.

"We are a great rebounding team," he said. "So RUN!!! Sprint!"

And in another seeming reference to Andrew Harrison without mentioning his name, "If you're the point guard, don't jog it up. Sprint it up."If the point guard doesn't want to run, he should advance the ball to a wing and then watch comfortably (or uncomfortably) as teammates enjoy scoring.

"Those are basic things," Calipari said. "Give up the ball earlier."

For the game against Michigan State, Calipari said he tried to simplify each player's duties.

"My thing in the last game was do your job," he said. "We've been very clear with each player what your job is."

Those jobs include continuing to play hard through each possession. "We still stopped 30 percent of the time," said Calipari, who noted how UK (Harrison?) applied more pressure on the opposition's ball handlers in the last game.

UK also needs to commit fewer fouls, he said. With the goal being no more than six fouls per half, the Cats are averaging 18.1 fouls per game.

"We're not a great execution team," Calipari said. "But we're good enough to win."

That led Calipari to comment on Kentucky's poor three-point shooting: 29.8-percent accuracy this season, just 20 percent (6-for-30) in the last two games.

The answer: less is more.

"We should be a better team, shooting-wise," he said. "Part of the reason, for me (for a Calipari team), is shooting too many threes. The most a guy should shoot is four or five threes. That's the most and that's when you're on fire.

"The rest of the time, you drive the ball. That's how we play."


Sunday

No. 3 Kentucky at Providence

When: 8:30 p.m.

Records: Kentucky 6-1, Providence 7-1

TV: Fox Sports 1

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

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