A passage from John Calipari’s new book came to mind Monday as Kentucky completed winning this season’s first seven games by an average margin of 30.6 points.
“Success should make them even more self-critical,” Calipari says in “Success is the Only Option.” “If my players are struggling, I’m usually easier on them. But if they’re rolling, I’m usually taking the performance apart and finding anything I can to get them to focus on improvement.”
After Kentucky humiliated Arizona State 115-69 Monday, Calipari’s ceaseless search for improvement turned him into a nutritionist.
“What I talked to them about was their diet . . . ,” he said of his postgame remarks to the players. “If you really want to be professional, you’ve got to take care of your body. You’ve got to eat right. You’ve got to get rest.”
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Calipari told reporters that he’d probably invite a dietitian who works with pro athletes to come speak to the UK players about the importance of diet.
“That’s another step for these guys because it’s going to be every game we play (as) somebody’s Super Bowl,” he said.
Calipari downplayed the notion that his search for improvement right now is a means of combating overconfidence. He made it sound part of preparation for more challenging competition in future games. That might happen immediately with Saturday’s game against unbeaten UCLA, which at No. 11 will be the highest-rated UK opponent so far this season.
It’s my job now to keep defining reality (about) where we are. It’s my job to figure out ways they can improve. . . . The question becomes how good can we be.
The Bruins are preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 Conference championship, while Arizona State was picked to finish 11th by Athlon, Blue Ribbon and The Sporting News.
“It’s my job now to keep defining reality (about) where we are,” Calipari said. “It’s my job to figure out ways they can improve. . . . The question becomes how good can we be.”
Initially, it might be difficult to imagine Kentucky being much better than in the beat-down of Arizona State. The 33 assists were the most by a UK team since 2001 and two shy of a program record.
The 59 rebounds were the most by a UK team since grabbing 62 against Morehead State on Dec. 16, 1995.
Kentucky outscored Arizona State 56-28 in the paint, 21-5 in points off turnovers, 23-13 in second-chance points, 21-4 in fast-break points and 36-6 in bench scoring.
Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley seemed at a loss to say how his team could use Monday’s game as a means to improve. It was ASU’s most lopsided defeat since a 117-71 loss to Southern Cal on March 7, 1998.
“As competitors, we’re all devastated,” he said. “You feel demoralized. . . .
“I’m going to think long and hard about what we’re going to learn from it. But hopefully we’ll get something out of this.”
Kentucky’s speed seemed to most impress Hurley, who said, “I don’t think I’ve seen a faster team in my years of coaching. Just how relentless they are with their energy.”
Kentucky’s defensive prowess made Hurley alter his team’s offense.
“You’re worried about every pass that gets made because of how hard they work off the ball,” he said. “. . . There weren’t many passes made because you’re worried about that pass being stolen and going the other way.”
When asked what kind of team could more likely be a threat to beat Kentucky, Hurley suggested that trying to outrun the Cats would be foolhardy.
“Maybe a real possession team, you know, that can tempo the game effectively,” Hurley said of this hypothetical conqueror of Kentucky. “That has a formidable inside game.”
Outrunning Kentucky? Maybe Duke could do that, Hurley said.
UCLA may try on Saturday in Rupp Arena.
“We’ll find out with UCLA, in terms of pace, if you can go up and down with them,” Hurley said. “It’d be very difficult.”
Meanwhile, as Calipari said, the challenge for Kentucky is to keep striving for more. More efficiency. More quality. More quantity.
Calipari suggested that the UK’s team’s collective personality lends itself to ever-more striving.
“This team competes . . . ,” he said.
When asked what motivated such highly decorated players to compete fiercely, Calipari said, “I think they have pride in who they are and what they’re about and what they’ve done.”
Calipari spoke of “the whole group” possessing a competitive spirit.
“I’m the happiest guy in the world,” he said.
No. 11 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky
12:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS-27)