After Kentucky beat Michigan State on Tuesday, Coach John Calipari pointedly refused to take a bow. There’s too much improvement that must be made to pause for a pat on the back.
On Friday, associate coach Kenny Payne explained.
“We don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “The way we coach, the way we prepare, these kids know after that game is over, we celebrate. (Then) it’s over. It’s on to the next game.”
But not everyone gets that message, Payne said.
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“The issue is outside this environment,” he said. Family, friends, high school buddies are the issue.
“They may talk to them about ‘You all are the real deal,’” Payne said. “But when they walk into this gym, and they walk into our offices, they know it’s on to the next (game). So there’s no time to relax and feel good about anything. We’re trying to get better.”
Yes, Wenyen Gabriel said, the victory over No. 13 Michigan State felt good. “It built our morale as a young team,” he said.
But beating the Spartans was not a culmination.
“Did we play our best?” Payne said. “Not even close.”
Gabriel suggested this latest freshman-dependent UK team can keep the 3-0 in perspective.
“That win is a good win, and it helps us move forward with more confidence,” he said. As for the sobering chaser, Gabriel said, “We have the toughest schedule in the country. There’s going to be more tough games coming up.”
Us against them
To guard against overconfidence, Kentucky is playing the us-against-them card.
“I know we got a lot of doubters out there,” Gabriel said.
Doubters? Kentucky is ranked No. 2 in the nation. With Duke losing to Kansas, the Cats will be No. 1 next week, assuming they beat Duquesne on Sunday.
“I think because we have a lot of freshmen on the team playing college basketball, they don’t really know how we’re going to click together yet,” Gabriel said. “People talk about outside shooting. There’s a lot of doubts.
“It kind of brings us together more.”
Those looking for the cloud obscuring the silver lining can point to Kentucky’s rebounding. Through three games, opponents have outrebounded UK 38.7-35.7.
“One of the things that’s been a little bit disappointing,” Payne said. “With our athleticism and energy and length, that we hadn’t dominated teams from the glass thus far.
“(I) don’t see that as a long-term problem. But it’s something we have to focus on and get better at.”
Payne pointed out UK’s dependence on freshmen. “We’re basically playing with a high school team,” he said.
When asked about Bam Adebayo fouling too much, Payne pointed out that three of the freshman’s fouls came on the offensive end. Payne suggested Adebayo be less aggressive when establishing post position.
“Just catch the ball,” Payne said. “If you just catch the ball, you’re going to be a problem to guard.”
Adebayo should not extend his arms as he establishes post position, Payne said. He should use a bent elbow to keep a defender at bay.
“No need to push all the way under the basket,” Payne said. “He is literally trying to push them all the way under the basket.”
Derek Willis was disappointed in how he played against Michigan State (no points, two rebounds in 16 minutes), Payne said.
“He’s so much better than that . . . ,” Payne said. “He’s spent so much time working on his game. He came so far as a player. He’s matured.
“But he’s got to go out there and play, man. He’s got to go out there and play with confidence.”
Payne acknowledged that he had not read John Calipari’s new book.
“Not yet,” he said. But Payne said he was familiar with Calipari’s writing process early in the project.
The book contained “really good stuff,” Payne said with a broad smile.
A reporter asked Payne what title he’d use if he wrote a book. Before Payne could answer, former UK star Rex Chapman, who stood in the rear of the news conference, volunteered, “Life as a troll.”
To which, Payne laughed and said, “Only Rex Chapman and I know what that means.”
A moment later, Payne added, “I wouldn’t have a book.”
▪ Among the positive statistics for UK, the Cats have made more free throws (63) than opponents have shot (48). And opponents have made only 21.2 percent of their three-point shots. And opponents have more than double the number of turnovers (66) as assists (30).
▪ Mike Morgan and Chris Spatola will call the UK-Duquesne game for ESPNU.