John Clay: Cats not perfect, but a win is a win

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 5, 2014 

When he wasn't being defensive or positive or testy or prophetic during his Monday meeting with the media, John Calipari said one simple thing when asked one how his reeling Kentucky basketball team could turn it around.

"One little thing at a time," said the coach.

Tuesday night, the Cats did one not-so-little thing.

They won a basketball game.

They were far from dominant, far from perfect, far from anything you might call impressive, but they were winners, beating Alabama 55-48 at Rupp Arena.

"At the end of the day, you and I both know, we just had to win this game," Calipari said. "It didn't matter what the score, could have been a half-court bank shot, we just needed to win a game."

They had to win just to stop the bleeding, just to calm things down a bit, if for no one else but themselves.

After all, it had been quite a week since Calipari broached the possibility of a No. 1 seed for UK, only to see his team lose an overtime home game to Arkansas, then stink up the Columbia's Colonial Life Arena in a loss to a South Carolina team that was tied for last place in the SEC.

To make matters worse, with 10 minutes to go, Calipari got ejected from that game. To make matters even worse, the coach blew off the press conference after the game.

And Calipari can shrug and joke it off all he wants — "If I would have known that me not going to a press conference would cause an international incident in the Ukraine, I probably would have gone," he said on his call-in show Monday night — but his no-show only exacerbated the situation.

Nor did it help this week when Cal went into sparring mode with the media, which led to national radio host Dan Patrick saying that he thought "this was it" for Calipari in Lexington.

"They're doing a 30 for 30 movie on it," Calipari joked on Tuesday night.

So are you coming back next year? he was asked in the Tuesday post-game press conference he did attend.

"I hope," Calipari said.

He did admit that his hip is bothering him, that he will probably have to have surgery and that he had been taking painkillers to get some sleep but stopped.

"I'm fine," he said.

To say his team is now fine is probably a stretch. After shooting 26.9 percent in the loss to South Carolina, the Cats shot 24 percent in the first half and 32.7 percent for the game.

"We shot 32 percent for the game and won the game," Calipari said. "I'm happy."

Part of that had to do with Alabama, which is now 12-18 overall and 6-11 in the SEC. Anthony Grant's team completed its conference road season without a win, going 0-9. Bama shot 38 percent, got outrebounded by 14 and missed 10 of 13 three-pointers.

But to Kentucky's credit, the Cats did just enough little things to survive.

In the midst of a miserable shooting night, James Young was fouled on a three-pointer, stepped to the line and made three straight free throws to give UK a 48-42 lead with 7:09 remaining.

Three minutes later, with Young 0-for-8 from the field, the freshman drained a three-pointer out of the left corner to push the Kentucky lead to 53-47 with 4:10 remaining.

"Those were big," Calipari said.

At this point, you build on what positives you can. Saturday brings a trip to the Florida's O'Dome, which promises to a Thunderdome considering the Gators are the No. 1 in the nation, it will be their Senior Day and (oh yeah) Billy Donovan's club will be going for a perfect 18-0 conference season.

"It will be a hard game for us," Calipari said.

The past week hasn't exactly been a piece of cake.

"We're still not all the way back," said the head coach.

It did get back in the win column. No little thing.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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