UK working on 'team confidence,' Calipari says

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 9, 2013 

On Sunday, Kentucky worked on how to huddle at the foul line before shooting free throws, Coach John Calipari said. There's also work to be done on how players on the bench should rise and greet a teammate who's just been substituted out of a game.

"Anytime I expect them to know something, I'm wrong," said Calipari, who then punctuated this comment with a chuckle that suggested a mix of alarm and amusement.

As ESPN's Chris Berman might say, Kentucky is going back-back-back to basics. Friday's loss to Baylor dropped UK out of the top 10.

Perhaps more importantly, the game reminded everyone of Kentucky's dependence on freshmen. Even highly regarded freshmen are not immune to the inconsistencies that come with inexperience.

"This team, what they seem to do is they get it going and do it right," Calipari said. "Then they get arrogant and they step back."

Against Baylor in Dallas (Ice Bowl II?), UK's ups and downs included:

 Watching Baylor make seven of its first eight shots and zip to a nine-point lead before the first television timeout. "No pressure on the ball," Calipari said of UK's defense. "None."

 Rallying to lead 38-35 at halftime, then taking a nine-point lead into the final 13 minutes.

 Failing to score a basket in the final 3:07. In that span, the Cats sealed their defeat by making only two of six free throws.

Calipari and James Young, who missed two crucial free throws with 2:22 left, cited fatigue as a key factor.

"I tend to lose focus when I'm tired," said Young, who has made a pedestrian 62.9 percent of his free throws so far this season. "That's all it is. I need to work on my conditioning."

As he did after the game, Calipari said he played the starters too many minutes. He acknowledged the fine line he must walk between keeping fresh players in the game while also wanting to enhance chemistry by keeping a core group on the floor as much as possible.

"We had guys play with no real intensity that didn't deserve to be out there that long," Calipari said. "There is a fine line. But you can't play that way and stay on the court."

Young cited chemistry as an advantage veteran teams have over Kentucky. Another such team, Boise State, comes to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night. Boise State's top eight players include three seniors, three juniors and a third-year sophomore.

"They've just been together a lot longer, so they have that chemistry," Young said. "We've just been working on ours."

Young noted "play style" as a factor. Veteran teams are more familiar with how to enhance teammates' strengths and lessen the exposure of weakness.

"A lot of guys have different play styles," he said of the Cats. "Once we get everybody's style down I think we'll be a real good team."

While Kentucky works to improve player stamina, Calipari expects the opponents to try to dominate the Kiddie Cats with physical play. That's the formula Baylor used.

"They weren't in awe of our team," Calipari said. "... (Baylor's) whole game plan was, 'beat them up a little bit.' Just about every team I've had here, that's been the M.O."

As the opponent takes the initiative physically, Kentucky's confidence suffers, Calipari said.

"We don't have a team confidence right now," Calipari said. "Team confidence. The reason is they're not relying on each other. They're not talking to one another. ...

"I knew they'd have to find each other. Or we're not going to be as good as everybody thinks or I think we should be."

Calipari expressed confidence in what Kentucky can become. But he and the Cats need time.

"I haven't lost any confidence in the team," he said. "I have a lot of work to do as a coach. They have a lot of work to do changing and buying in."


BOISE STATE at KENTUCKY

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday | TV: ESPN

Records: Boise State 8-0, Kentucky 7-2 | Series: First meeting

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com Twitter: @JerryTiptonBlog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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