Calipari: 'It's time' for Cats to fight for team

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 13, 2014 

  • ESPN College GameDay

    What: Nationally televised pre-game show setting up Saturday night's Kentucky-Florida game

    Where: Rupp Arena

    When: Doors open at 8 a.m. Event begins at 9 a.m.

    Tickets: Available online through Ticketmaster and at Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets are free but online orders have a service fee attached. GameDay tickets are not valid for Saturday's game.

    TV: 10 a.m.-11 a.m. (ESPNU); 11 a.m.-Noon (ESPN)

After Kentucky beat Auburn on Wednesday night, Coach John Calipari compared his latest team to the national champions of 2012. This season's Cats lost out in that comparison.

"We had four veterans on that team that could talk to them," Calipari said of the heralded freshmen of 2011-12. "Plus, you had Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) that tied his emotions to his energy. You had Anthony Davis that just wanted to win, could care less about scoring. So they tied nothing to their offense.

"Now, the one that did was my little point guard (Marquis Teague), and it took me half a year to get him right. But I didn't have five of them. I got five and six right now."

Calipari also doesn't have half a year to get the UK team of 2013-14 right. With seven games remaining in the regular season, he has a month or so.

The home stretch begins with a game Saturday against No. 3 Florida, which epitomizes selfless team play.

"We're good mentally," Julius Randle said of Kentucky's state of mind going into the Florida game. "We know we can win. We just have to do what the coaches ask us to do. People can't outplay us."

The 64-56 victory at Auburn was not reassuring. Like the maddening repeat of icy/wintry weather that's dogged the Cats this season, the game at Auburn was a repeat of issues such as players getting discouraged by adversity, not communicating and looking more concerned with me rather than we.

"I'll watch it on the plane, probably scream and yell at the front of the plane watching it," Calipari said. "I mean, we had guys I took out because they were playing the game like going through the motions of playing. Then you're out. I'm going to play guys that are fighting. Who's going to battle?"

A moment of truth came midway through the second half. Auburn, which trailed by as many as 10 points early, took its first lead with 12:21 left. UK found itself behind 38-35 when the teams took a television timeout with 11:25 left.

The Cats went to Randle with the ensuing possession. He scored his first basket of the second half. The logical conclusion was Calipari challenged Randle, who had scored only four points in the game's first 28 minutes.

"No, what I said to all of them was, 'I'm playing the guys that are going to fight. If you're not into this, you ain't playing. I'll sit you down,'" the UK coach said. "And I said, 'Let's go to him and let's see what you have. If they double-team you, pass the son of a gun.'"

Randle acknowledged that his struggles to score affected his energy and activity in the game.

"I've got to do the little things," he said.

Randle seemed to downplay the significance of Calipari's challenge during the timeout.

"I was just tired of it, you know," he said. "I wanted to step up and make a play. I didn't want to lose."

Randle was not the only player to test Calipari's patience.

James Young made only one of 10 shots. His 1-for-5 three-point shooting made him 2-for-14 from beyond the arc in the last three games.

"James gave us nothing," Calipari said. "Broke down. Didn't rebound (he had six). Was soft driving to the goal."

Calipari also suggested that Aaron and Andrew Harrison shot too many three-pointers in the first half. Each took two.

"Come on, man," Calipari said. "Drive ... one-dribble pull-ups; get to the lane. You're 6-5."

UK players think too much about offense and allow scoring to dictate level of play, the UK coach said.

"I told them after the game, 'At some point, guys, if you want to be special, that's got to change. Your emotions have got to be tied to our defense, team-wise. That's it, nothing else," he said.

Calipari credited Kentucky for competing harder in the second half. Overall, Kentucky grabbed 22 offensive rebounds, the most for a UK team since getting 24 against West Virginia in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

UK's defense limited Auburn to season-low 32.7-percent shooting. That contributed to the Tigers getting credit for only two assists, fewest by a UK opponent since Tennessee State had two on Dec. 22, 2008.

Good. But not good enough.

"But, again, you know, come on. It's time. It's time. Enough!" Calipari said of his repeated calls for consistent and selfless efficiency. "I can't say it anymore. I've said it a thousand ways. Why am I saying it publicly? I want them to read it.

"The issue becomes, their emotion is not tied to us yet. They're typical 18- and 19-year-old kids. We're out there with all freshmen ... who have no idea about team defense, don't have any terminology. And we're trying to get them to do more than probably is fair for them. But like I said, 'At some point, guys, if you want to be special, you got to tie your emotions to our defense, our team defense and to your teammates and none of it tied to how you're playing.'

"... Normally it takes you two to three years to get that. We're on steroids. We got to do it in eight months. So we'll see."

For Kentucky's 2012 national championship, Calipari credited Teague's evolution into a team-first point guard.

"It was because he came with us," Calipari said. "Now I'm trying to drag seven this way."

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

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