After Friday's game, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino saw a happier new year for Kentucky than his Cardinals. Not merely because UK won the game 78-63, but because the Cats have the good fortune of entering Southeastern Conference play.
"I don't say this in a negative way, but they're going to get better and better in a conference that this year is down," Pitino said. "Next year they could be the best conference in basketball when schools like Auburn start building up.
"But we are not going to get a break."
According to Collegerpi.com, the Big East is the nation's best conference. The SEC has the seventh-best RPI, between No. 6 Pacific 10 and No. 8 Atlantic 10.
"They are going to get a lot better," Pitino said. "We are going to, hopefully, get better. But we are going to face some teams that are going to overpower us a little bit. We have to compensate by doing smart things."
Echoing comments he's made at several junctures this early season, UK Coach John Calipari put a priority on developing depth. Aside from its top six, UK got next to nothing from the other four players on the team. Only two played against U of L. Jon Hood and Eloy Vargas were scoreless in one- and two-minute stints.
"We have a chance," Calipari said of the Cats' potential. "Now, let's take this up a notch."
Then, Calipari added, "We can't do this with six guys."
After contradicting himself by noting that a six-man Memphis team did well in 2004-05, Calipari added a cautionary note.
"We can't get in foul trouble," he said. "We've got to find another couple guys."
Calipari again identified Vargas and Hood as players who could provide depth around the basket and on the perimeter, respectively.
"Eloy has to play better," Calipari said before adding, "I've got to be comfortable going with Jon Hood and sticking him in the game."
The subject of executing a game plan divided Calipari and Pitino.
"We've gotten better executing out-of-bounds plays," the UK coach said. "It's nice to call something and everybody knows where they're supposed to go."
Not that Calipari suggested Kentucky can go on cruise control in Monday's game against Penn and the SEC schedule that begins with a possibly sturdy test at Georgia next Saturday. He lamented what he called "the worst practice in (his) two years at Kentucky" on Thursday. His response was to run his players.
"I'm giving you an excuse to lose," he said he told the players. "... They're immature. They don't understand preparation and what it takes."
Calipari singled out Doron Lamb as a player who may be relaxed. "Doron Lamb didn't have the same fire," the UK coach said before adding, "He's a freshman."
Another freshman, Terrence Jones, fell into the same category of inconsistency. Calipari noted how Jones was a player with an objective against Notre Dame. "To show you can't guard me around the basket," the UK coach said.
Against Louisville, Calipari saw a different player.
"I think he wanted to do the cute stuff in this game," the UK coach said.
Meanwhile, Pitino said his players did a poor job of following the game plan against Kentucky. The Cardinals anticipated UK aiming to limit three-point opportunities. So, U of L hoped to counter by seeking points in the paint.
But Pitino counted only four times in the first half that the Cards worked to get the ball inside.
"That was our Achilles' heel," the U of L coach said.
When a reporter asked if UK's length inhibited the Cards, Pitino said, "I think it was more of us not paying attention to what we had to do. ... We created our own demise by staying strong side too much and not reversing the ball."
After praising Brandon Knight's combination of speed and control, Pitino noted how Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins make Kentucky a solid team.
"I don't think they really have any weakness, per se," the U of L coach said, "because Liggins and Harrellson are so smart. They don't have to worry, and they really play intelligent defense."