Perhaps playing them one at a time has its drawbacks. Maybe sometimes it’s better to see down-the-road consequences from that day’s performance.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari suggested that his team’s almost perfunctory superiority in Sunday’s 23-point victory over Hofstra obscured big picture perspective.
So Isaiah Briscoe was surprised to hear that Hofstra had more rebounds than UK.
“I didn’t know we were out-rebounded,” Briscoe said.
Briscoe did not sound overly concerned. “We played a pretty good game,” he said.
Of Hofstra’s 45-41 rebounding advantage, Briscoe said, “Maybe we made more shots. Maybe we weren’t missing as much.”
True enough, Kentucky made 51.4 percent of its shots, so there were fewer available offensive rebounds for the Cats. But Hofstra grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which was a season high for a UK opponent. Yes, Hofstra made only 33.8 percent of its shots, so there were more offensive rebounds to be had. But Michigan State and Duquesne shot a worst percentage against UK and got only 13 and seven offensive rebounds, respectively. The Spartans (41) and Dukes (39) missed almost as many shots as Hofstra (43).
The rebounding really bothered me. Because a bunch of them were perimeter shots, and our guys all just looked at the ball. And either they tipped it away or jumped over our backs or the ball went over our heads. And it’s just frustrating because we’re working on it. But it is what it is.
Coincidentally, North Carolina, which plays Kentucky (9-1) on Saturday in Las Vegas, leads the nation in rebound margin (plus 14.8). The Tar Heels’ 16.1 offensive rebounds per game is the fifth-highest average nationally, which might explain why Hofstra’s rebounding concerned Calipari.
“The rebounding really bothered me,” he said. “Because a bunch of them were perimeter shots, and our guys all just looked at the ball. And either they tipped it away or jumped over our backs or the ball went over our heads.
“And it’s just frustrating because we’re working on it. But it is what it is.”
Calipari gave Derek Willis credit for being relatively more scrappy in the fight for rebounds.
“I thought Derek fought 50 percent better than he has been fighting,” the UK coach said. “Yet, there were still balls he didn’t get.”
The forward position shared by Willis and Wenyen Gabriel continues to draw coaching attention from Calipari and his staff.
“We’re going to have games that position is a tough position because they’re going to play a power game against us,” Calipari said.
North Carolina (10-1) might fit that description.
If that position is a problem against a power team, Kentucky must resort to a risky formula for winning: outscoring the opponent.
“We couldn’t against UCLA,” Calipari said. “They outscored us.”
The loss to UCLA came five days after Calipari tried to temper enthusiasm by making similar we’re-not-that-good statements following a blowout victory over Arizona State.
Each set of comments echoed a point Calipari makes in his new book, “Success Is the Only Option: The Art of Coaching Extreme Talent.” Romping to victory should make players and teams more determined to improve. “Success should make them even more self-critical . . . ,” Calipari says in the book. “If they’re rolling, I’m usually taking the performance apart and finding anything I can to get them to focus on improvement.”
In his postgame remarks Sunday, Calipari spoke more than once about players needing to play with more confidence. He mentioned freshman Sacha Killeya-Jones and sophomore Isaac Humphries in this regard.
“Sacha is way better,” Calipari said. “He just gets in the game and he’s not ready.”
Humphries is also less effective in games, the UK coach said. “He plays so much better in practice than he does in games. I just don’t understand it right now.”
He plays so much better in practice than he does in games. I just don’t understand it right now.
John Calipari, on Isaac Humphries
Calipari again called for Monk to not rely solely on perimeter shooting and instead add authoritative drives to his game. Fox did not use his best attribute — his speed — to its fullest extent against Hofstra, Calipari said.
Although UK players spoke of complacency and underestimating UCLA after that loss, Briscoe sounded fully aware Sunday of the need to improve and the luxury of time to get it done.
When asked about winning a national championship, something Hofstra Coach Joe Mihalich mentioned as a possibility for UK, Briscoe recoiled.
“That’s a long way from now,” Briscoe said. “We’re still at the beginning of the season. Guys are still getting better. We’re still jelling as a team. And we just focus on getting better every day, and collectively as a team.”
Calipari sounded a theme for the coming weeks and months: improvement individually and as a team.
“There’s nothing on our shoulders now,” he said. “We’re not undefeated. We’re not No. 1. C’mon. Just worry about getting better.”
No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 7 North Carolina
What: CBS Sports Classic
Where: MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas
When: 5:45 p.m. EST Saturday (second game of doubleheader featuring No. 2 UCLA vs. Ohio State at 3 p.m.)