Fittingly for Calipari, Cats' next game is in 'Show Me' state

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 31, 2014 

Freshman Dakari Johnson seemed to see significance in a players-only meeting after Kentucky lost at LSU. UK Coach John Calipari not so much.

"I don't want to know," Calipari said Friday when asked about the meeting. "Don't care.

"Let's play."

Calipari wants to see better play at Missouri on Saturday, not dissect a meeting in a hotel room.

"This is all about what we do on the court," Calipari said. "Preparing to go to war. Understanding that the other team is excited to play. That's what this all comes down to."

When a reporter asked if Calipari saw significance in Alex Poythress, a quiet player who has been prodded repeatedly to produce more, calling the meeting, the UK coach said, "You're telling me stuff I don't know because I don't care to know.

"All I want to see (is) if we're prepared and we understand the other team is absolutely excited to play you, And you have to be excited and energized and passionate. That's how you have to play basketball."

The meeting happened at the team hotel following the 87-82 loss at LSU.

"We just felt we didn't come out and compete like we should have," Johnson said.

The players took turns speaking. The rhetoric did not get heated.

"We just talked," Johnson said. "Everybody shared their own opinion. A lot of players apologized for not doing their hardest. ... We went one by one. A lot of people apologized and said that wouldn't happen again."

Slow starts have been almost a signature part of this Kentucky team's season. LSU led 22-6 early in Tuesday's game. Poythress assured reporters that UK players are well aware of how eagerly opponents want to beat Kentucky. He suggested that the slow starts further embolden opponents.

When asked how Kentucky can get off to a better start, Poythress said, "Get stops to start the game. We can't let them score. It gives them more energy and more confidence."

Calipari has thought aloud about a lineup change spurring a faster start. He didn't rule it out for the Missouri game. But with players like Poythress, Johnson and Jarrod Polson becoming steady contributors off the bench, he did not sound eager to make a change.

"Maybe," he said. "But, again, I can sub a guy four seconds in. I can look, 'OK, you're out.'"

Rather than a lineup change or seeing a players' meeting as a magic wand, Calipari spoke of the need for more selfless play. Without naming names, he said some UK players are too caught up in their own play.

"If they played bad and we played really good, they're really sad," Calipari said. "If we play bad and they're playing really good, they're very happy.

"They know they're doing it. And they're trying to change. ... It's just a hard thing to crack. You have to be more into your team than how you're playing."

To help foster such thinking, Calipari said he's been encouraging players to acknowledge a teammate's successes in practice. The idea is to get players away from a self-centered view of the action, he said.

"Lose yourself in the team," Calipari said. "When we do that, you'll start to see change."

Frank Haith, who has a gaudy 43-2 record at home as Missouri coach (losses to Georgia on Jan. 8 and to Kansas State in 2011-12), spoke of a revived Kentucky team on Saturday.

"John will have those guys ready to play," he said. "I have great respect for John. And I know he'll have those guys geared up and ready to play. Whether they won or lost against LSU, the fact that they lost, they'll be even more prepared and geared up and ready to play."

Kentucky, which has lost five times by a combined 21 points, is too talented, too athletic, too gifted and too well-coached to founder, Haith said.

"Whatever he felt they weren't ready to do, they'll be ready to do on Saturday," Haith said of Calipari and Kentucky.

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

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