Although acknowledging that leading scorer Jodie Meeks looked tired in Kentucky's loss to Georgia on Wednesday, UK Coach Billy Gillispie saw no reason to stop or ease the team's hard practices on game days.
That issue came up repeatedly last season as injuries (mixed with a few heavy-legged performances) hindered the Cats. It resurfaced after Gillispie said Meeks looked tired in UK's 90-85 loss to last-place Georgia.
The Cats worked out at full speed for about an hour the day of the Georgia game. When asked what pause it gave him to see Meeks fatigued in the game, Gillispie had a one-word answer.
When asked why he would not reconsider the hard practices the days of games, Gillispie said, "Well, (laughs), because that's the way he's played all year.
"We're not going to change our approach, as far as that goes."
Meeks' stellar play has made him a prime candidate for Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and first-team All-America honors. He's single-handedly won games (against Kansas State, at Tennessee, at Arkansas).
Gillispie suggested that Herculean effort rather than practices the days of games contributed to Meeks' fatigue against Georgia.
"Carrying the team from the perimeter," the UK coach said, "(rather than) any physical thing from practice."
During his turn on an SEC teleconference Thursday, Florida Coach Billy Donovan noted how each coach must judge when to back off or forge full steam ahead with physical demands.
"I've had teams that, to keep them in a good flow, they really needed to be worked," said Donovan, whose Gators play Kentucky on Saturday. "They really wanted to be worked, and they were actually able to get better."
Donovan called it a "fine line" and a "balancing act" that a coach must handle with care.
The loss to Georgia (UK's seventh in the past 10 games) left Gillispie stressing the continuing need to improve.
"Keep working," the UK coach said, "and never give up. That's the only thing I know to do. That's what I've always tried to do all year long."
The Cats work in an atmosphere increasingly polluted by negativity. Before the Georgia game, Josh Harrellson and Perry Stevenson spoke of the need to ignore negative comments from fans. That proved difficult to do in the game against Georgia when boos erupted from the Rupp Arena stands on several occasions.
Patrick Patterson said he didn't blame the fans for booing.
"Whether Kentucky fans are faithful or not, they're going to boo," he said. "When we're losing, they may boo. We know they're still Kentucky fans. ...
"If I was them, I'd be booing, too. This is not really Kentucky basketball."
When asked about negativity dragging down the Cats, who already have plenty of issues to juggle (point guard play, perimeter scoring from someone other than Meeks, defensive rebounding, turnovers), Gillispie stopped well short of dismissing that concern.
"You'd hope they're mentally tougher than that," the UK coach said. "But I don't know what goes through their minds all the time.
"What you have to do is dig yourself out of a hole. You have to work harder, work smarter and work together. And that's what we'll try to do the remainder of the season."
History in the unmaking
Gillispie saw no need to comment on Kentucky making a bit of dubious history in the loss to Georgia. It was UK's sixth home loss of the season (VMI, Miami, South Carolina, Mississippi State, LSU and Georgia).
Kentucky hasn't lost that many home games since the seven losses of 1966-67. You have to go back to 1927 to find another season with as many as six home losses.
"I'm not into history," Gillispie said after the Georgia game. "We got our tails beat. ... You try to put your hard hat on. You try to understand what you need to get better at, and you try to get better at it.
"It's not over yet."