John Calipari tried to see a 97-66 exhibition victory over Pikeville College on Monday night as the metaphorical glass as half full. And if his team had tried that hard in the game, the Kentucky coach might have been happier with the result.
"We really had no fight or viciousness to our game," he said. "We didn't really rebound. We couldn't make a three.
"Other than that, I thought we showed some good signs."
The audience of reporters chuckled at the UK coach's wit. Calipari did not crack a smile.
"These kids don't understand," he said. "They don't get it yet."
To help the kiddie Cats understand, Calipari said he would make practices rougher and tougher.
Calipari also lamented that the team leaders, juniors Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins, did not set the proper tone. Miller "at times stopped playing," the UK coach said. Expected from a freshman, but problematic from a player others look to for leadership.
Liggins did not show the all-out hustle of last season, a point Calipari made to Liggins at halftime.
"Coach Cal called me out on that," Liggins said with a sheepish smile. "He said, 'You don't have that energy.'
"I got tired real quick. In the second half, I was ready to go."
Calipari did not hear Liggins talk about being tired. Good thing.
"I reminded the team it's Nov. 1," the UK coach said. "As long as you don't make excuses, you can accept getting outworked. You can accept getting out-toughed. You can accept getting out-hustled."
Of course, it is early. The oneness of purpose probably needs time to develop. Like any demanding coach, Calipari sounded as though he wanted it sooner rather than later.
"We didn't help each other," he said. "We almost worked against each other."
Calipari also hinted about players wanting to look good rather than merely productive.
"This is not about cool," he said. "This isn't about style points."
If the victory over Pikeville College was a true gauge, Kentucky will be a small team that needs an all-out, full-court style to show its peak effectiveness.
The Cats put the dribble and the drive to good use against Pikeville. Kentucky shot 56 free throws, an indication of how often they got into the lane for shots.
But rebounding became an issue, especially in the first half when Pikeville had nine offensive rebounds to UK's two.
Kentucky imposed more of its will in the second half, outrebounding the Bears 28-16.
And when opponents make Kentucky play a half-court game, three-point shootingmight be a problem. The Cats made only one of 11 shots from beyond the arc. That coming after 7-for-26 accuracy from three-point range in the Blue-White Scrimmage.
A crowd of 21,127 watched Brandon Knight lead UK with 22 points. Miller added 21 and Doron Lamb contributed 16.
Kentucky opened the game with four guards. Freshman forward Terrence Jones joined Miller, Knight, Lamb and Liggins in the starting lineup.
UK's play reflected that lineup: plenty of drives and almost no post-up game.
What seemed to bother Calipari early was that the rebounding reflected the lineup, too. Pikeville cashed in putbacks for four of its first nine baskets.
At one juncture, Calipari gyrated at the bench as he called for Josh Harrellson to replace the non-rebounding Eloy Vargas.
The putbacks enabled Pikeville to stay within 10 points as late as the eight-minute mark of the first half.
Kentucky twice got its lead to 20 points, the second time saw Miller feed a lob that Jones dunked, then Liggins contorted his body and banked in a shot while being fouled. The three-point play put UK ahead 72-52 with 8:53 left. After Pikeville closed to within 15, with 8:27 left, Kentucky steadily pulled away.
Liggins saw the small lineup as more experimental than a sign of how Kentucky wants to play this season.
"With Coach Cal, it's more about let's see how this works," Liggins said. "He likes to do a lot of tweaking."
But as Calipari noted, a small lineup necessitates kamikaze zeal.
"The small lineup wasn't particularly good," the UK coach said. "If there's no energy, you can't play small guys. It doesn't work."