After Kentucky whipped Tennessee on Tuesday, Coach John Calipari suggested UK also beat the perception that physical play is the key to defeating his team.
Calipari envisioned opponents watching Kentucky beat LSU last weekend and Tennessee, then concluding, "You know, it's hard to play them that way."
But Calipari failed to offer a viable alternative (try to outrun Kentucky?).
Former college coach Fran Fraschilla, the color commentator on ESPN's telecast of the Tennessee game, remained unconvinced. If coaching against UK, he said he'd want his players to be physical with the Cats.
"I would," Fraschilla said. "What you want to do if you play a great team like Kentucky (is) you've got to punch a bully in the nose before he punches you."
Calipari's post-Tennessee comments continued a theme. Throughout the season, his repeated calls for more physical play by the Cats evolved lately into several pleas to the referees: Don't call so many charges, do call the games tightly.
"You know John," Fraschilla said. "He's even thinking ahead in regard to the officiating."
The ESPN commentator, whose head coaching stints came at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico, saw Calipari's comments about physical play as part of an attempt to prepare for possible future matchups deep in the NCAA Tournament against, say, a physical Big Ten team like Wisconsin or Michigan State.
"Cal's always thinking ahead," Fraschilla said. "He's always thinking of the big picture down the road."
Calling freshman big man Anthony Davis a finesse player, Fraschilla said he saw an ulterior motive in Calipari's recent comments on officiating. The UK coach might be trying to make defenders lay off, thus creating more room for Davis to operate.
"If you can eliminate some of the banging on him by pointing it out to the media, and in turn the officials, probably not a bad idea," Fraschilla said.
Although LSU got lumped into the category of an opponent intent on muscling Kentucky, the Tigers seemed ill-equipped for such a tactic. Guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer are 5-foot-11 and 5-9. Wing Ralston Turner packs only 205 pounds on a 6-6 frame. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton did not throw his weight around.
Still, Calipari noted how Davis ended up on the floor more than once.
"LSU was rougher than this (Tennessee) game, and it was allowed to be rougher," the UK coach said.
When asked if he came close to losing his composure at LSU, Davis shook his head.
"Not at all," he said. "I couldn't let that affect me. ... A hard foul is a hard foul. I just got right back up."
Tennessee, which could rotate bulk (265-pound Jeronne Maymon and 250-pound Jarnell Stokes) with height (Kenny Hall and Yemi Makanjuola, both 6-9), undoubtedly presented a physical test for Kentucky.
Fraschilla applauded UK's response.
"I was at practice Monday," the ESPN college basketball analyst said. "I thought they carried out Cal's game plan perfectly in terms of they knew it would be a physical game, and they went inside early."
Maymon picked up his second foul with 13:51 left in the first half. Stokes got his second foul at 11:14. Hall got his third at 7:23.
"Definitely, the idea is 'We're going to attack your strength,'" Fraschilla said of UK's plan. "Your strength is some big bodies inside, and we're going to come after you early. It really worked to perfection."
The idea of physical play being a way to beat Kentucky first came to prominence in the November game against Old Dominion.
Recalling that game, ODU Coach Blaine Taylor said Wednesday, "You've got to find some way to level the playing field. A way to do that is to restrict movement and stop them from moving to certain areas."
So ODU took charges. ODU's big men beat Kentucky to the low post and held their ground.
Taylor noted how Kentucky has learned to combat such tactics.
"You've got to be ready to anticipate (contact)," Taylor said. "When you cut, somebody might not let you cut. When you post up, somebody might not let you have prime real estate. When you drive, 'Nah, I've got a different idea.'
"We tried to beat them to the spot, beat them to the cut. Barricade the building. (UK) guys who were used to running over buildings were running into charges."
Coincidentally or not, Calipari has argued that fewer charges should be called. Fans want to watch basketball played, not charges taken.
"John's always been good about getting his message out," Fraschilla said.
Noting that Calipari is not a neutral observer, Taylor said, "The vantage point of John's is obviously biased toward his team."
Though Kentucky met Tennessee's physical challenge, Calipari lamented that the Vols' Skylar McBee nudged a driving Terrence Jones off his path to the basket and Davis got "mushed" a few times.
"He wasn't ready to really be physical," the UK coach said. "So we've got a long way to go with that. But we've made strides."