Cats make most of extended semester break

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 6, 2014 

Kentucky's Dakari Johnson battled Louisville's Luke Hancock for a loose ball. UK has not played since the 73-66 win over U of L on Dec. 28.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Kentucky ends the program's longest break between regular-season games since 2007 on Wednesday against Mississippi State. As described by Coach John Calipari, the 10-day interval was a perfect 10.

"This team really needed this," he said on a Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference Monday.

Kentucky hasn't played since beating Louisville on Dec. 28. UK hasn't gone 10 or more days without a game since a loss to Gardner-Webb on Nov. 7, 2007, meant no advancement in something called the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic and a next game on Nov. 21 against Liberty.

Prior to that, you have to go back to the 2000-01 season (Nov. 10 against UCLA and Nov. 21 against Jacksonville State) to find a similarly long break in a Kentucky schedule.

Calipari acknowledged not planning for such a long hiatus this season.

"We like to have a little more time (between semesters)," he said. "And when the league moved the schedule back, it was perfect for us."

UK (10-3) worked on unity of purpose and camaraderie. Calipari spoke of team gatherings for breakfasts, dinners, mostly two-a-day practices, meetings and film sessions.

"Bring them closer," he said. "This was a big time.

"Now we'll see how it carries over to the court. You don't know. But they have really responded pretty good."

Disunity down the stretch of close games was a factor in Kentucky's losses to Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, Calipari said. He noted how UK was in a one-point game with three minutes to go in all the losses. The Cats were tied with Michigan State at 66-66 with 4:48 to go, down 61-60 inside three minutes against Baylor, down by three with 2:14 to go at North Carolina.

UK lost the three games by a combined 14 points.

"We didn't know how to finish games," Calipari said. "We didn't know how to do it together. Didn't know how to be a team. ... We're getting closer to where we want to be, but we're not there yet."

Calipari qualified the progress he saw in the victory over Louisville, which saw a 10-point lead with 90 seconds dwindle to five and necessitate the making of clutch free throws.

"We played as a team better," Calipari said. "Now, we still had breakdowns. We gave them a chance to come back and win a game they should not have had a chance to win."

Hence, the chance to "stretch minds," as Calipari put it, during the long semester break.

"How we have to play together and how individuals have to be responsible for each other and to each other has been the challenge," Calipari said. "And that's why (during) the little break we've had, we have really been able to zero in on those areas."

Creating good shots in a possession-by-possession game. Making such shots difficult for the opponent.

"The players are ready to play," Calipari said. "Oh my god. They see me coming, and their heads go down. They want to start playing games."

Winning without

Calipari noted the importance of beating Louisville in a game that saw cramps sideline Julius Randle for the final 11 minutes. The Cats have also won games in which Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young have not excelled.

The next step is to get Dakari Johnson and/or Marcus Lee ready to compensate for an off-night by Willie Cauley-Stein.

"What's important about that is those guys know: You don't come to play and compete and battle or you're not quite ready, OK, you're out and we'll win without you.

"That's very important for a team to know."

Willis, Lee

The next step in UK's progress is to keep freshmen Derek Willis and Lee "engaged," Calipari said.

"Because I really think before it's all said and done, they're going to help us win games."

'Success'

Mississippi State brings a 10-3 record to Rupp Arena. Although the Bulldogs' non-conference schedule was rated among the nation's least challenging by stat maven Ken Pomeroy, Coach Rick Ray noted the importance of winning.

Beginning a rebuilding phase as a new coach last season, Ray's first MSU team did not win its 10th game until the SEC Tournament.

To win its 10th this season before the start of league play "speaks well of the progress the team has made," Ray said. "But now we get to test ourselves against the best."

Re-inventing Rupp

More than 4,000 people had participated in an online survey regarding a proposal to renovate Rupp Arena, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's office said. The survey is available at www.ruppdistrict.com.

Survey responses completed by 8 a.m., Wednesday will be entered into a random drawing for Gray's lower-level tickets. Survey responses must include a valid e-mail address to be eligible for the drawing. A winner will be contacted via e-mail by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Fans can share ideas about the renovation at a public meeting set for 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom. The meeting will be streamed online at www.ruppdistrict.com.

Architects and city officials will be on-line from 6-8 p.m. to answer questions submitted through social media -- Facebook.com/RuppDistrict ; Twitter @RuppDistrict; or e-mail info@ruppdistrict.com.

Tickets

eRUPPtion Zone tickets for the UK-State game will be available 90 minutes before tipoff. The tickets are $5 each, and are limited to one per person.

The public will be allowed to start lining up for eRUPPtion Zone ticket sales at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Upper level reserved tickets are also still available for the games against Mississippi State and Texas A&M (Jan. 21).


Wednesday

Mississippi State at Kentucky

When: 8 p.m. TV: WKYT-27

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

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