With confetti no doubt still on the minds — if not in the hair — of Kentucky fans, Long Beach State Coach Dan Monson offered a sobering message.
"Nobody's good enough to win a national championship right now," he said after UK beat the 49ers 86-73 on Wednesday. "If a team doesn't improve from today to when the NCAA Tournament comes, they're not good enough."
UK players left for home after the game. If they choose, they can savor the program's 2,000th victory, which came Monday and prompted a post-game celebratory shower of confetti.
But beginning Saturday night, it's back to work.
Never miss a local story.
"We're only halfway through," UK Coach John Calipari told the players after the game. "You've got to keep going. That's the kind of stuff that's hard."
Parity in college basketball continues to remove cruise-control from the options any team can choose. UK's aspirations for an undefeated season run smack into the fact that no team has gone unbeaten since 1975-76.
"The next 2,000 wins here will be more difficult than the last 2,000," Monson said.
The Long Beach coach noted that UK had the tools to make a serious post-season run.
"As a coach, the two hardest things to recruit are inside presence and a point guard," he said. "Mission accomplished at Kentucky because they got those two things down pat as well as anybody in the country."
Kentucky's task now is to continue to improve, not to get ahead, but to keep pace with other contenders, Monson said.
"The ingredients are here," he said. "... Ingredients are what you make a cake with."
Then the Long Beach State coach added, "They're still baking the cake."
How good is UK?
Having played Texas, Clemson, West Virginia, UCLA and Notre Dame, Long Beach State is in position to judge Kentucky's team.
"The other teams we played, in my opinion, were a little bit better," guard Stephan Gilling said. "This team has a lot of talent and has a lot of athleticism, and that is how they win."
No. 2 Texas whipped Long Beach State 107-74 on Dec. 7. When asked to compare the Longhorns to No. 3 Kentucky, Monson said, "Texas was more physical on the perimeter. They just really physically dominated us on the perimeter, and we never got to see what we had inside against them. ...
"This team (Kentucky) is probably a little bit ahead offensively than Texas. And Texas might be a little bit ahead defensively. It'd be an interesting game and, the way they're both playing, you'll probably get to see it."
A welcomed break
UK players looked forward to the Christmas break.
"I feel like we've played a ton of basketball and played a lot of good teams," Darius Miller said. "We're worn down a little bit. I think everybody feels that way, coaches included."
When asked whether he needed a break, teammate Perry Stevenson said, "Oh, big time. It's basketball. It's fun. But it's hard."
Stevenson noted that he hasn't seen his family since before the season began.
Lesson for Bledsoe
In the first half, freshman Eric Bledsoe made one of six shots (0-for-3 from three-point range). Bledsoe got benched to start the second half.
But in this case, "A" did not lead to "B."
"Eric Bledsoe wasn't playing well and wants to show it on his sleeve," UK Coach John Calipari said. "Because you are not playing well, who cares? It is about our team. It isn't about how you are playing. It is about how our team is playing. ... That is why I didn't start him in the second half.
"He looked at me in the locker room and said, 'Coach, I'm going to be ready in the second half.' I said, 'Good, but I'm still not starting you.' "
Bledsoe went 3-for-5 with eight points in the second half.
Patrick Patterson's 15 points moved him past Deron Feldhaus and Tom Parker for 34th on UK's career list. He has 1,239 points. The next two players he'll try to pass on the list are former teammate Jodie Meeks (1,246) and assistant strength coach Scott Padgett (1,252). ... In the second half, UK had five fouls and Long Beach State 13. UK made 15 of 18 free throws and Long Beach State three of six. ... Until T.J. Robinson grabbed 15 rebounds, the high total for a UK opponent this season had been 13 by Stanford's Landry Fields.