Kentucky Sports

John Clay: For Kentucky, the time to 'get right' is right now

Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) put in a shot over LSU Tigers guard Malik Morgan (24) as Kentucky defeated LSU 75-70  on Saturday January 26, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats forward Alex Poythress (22) put in a shot over LSU Tigers guard Malik Morgan (24) as Kentucky defeated LSU 75-70 on Saturday January 26, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

With this being the biggest week of the entire Kentucky basketball season (to this point), it would have been nice if the Cats had trounced LSU for a booster shot of confidence heading into the two-game road swing.

A "key" road swing.

It was not to be, of course. Not with this Kentucky basketball team. Not right now, anyway. Not on Saturday.

"We are not right, right now," said John Calipari afterward. "I mean, we are still not."

Nothing comes easy. Not with this young team. Not in this season.

A nice first half and a 13-point lead dwindled to a seven-point lead four minutes into the second half, then down to a three-point lead with 3:10 left and then to a — yikes — two-point lead with exactly a minute remaining. And by the end there was Calipari choosing to foul just to keep LSU from hitting a game-tying three-pointer.

"I'm not one to usually do it," said Calipari of the strategy, "but the way that game was playing, (Anthony Hickey) would have made that three. There ain't no question he would have banked it, and that three would have gone in. So that's why I decided to do that."

With two seconds left, Hickey missed the front end of the bonus. Kentucky rebounded. Alex Poythress made two free throws at the other end. Kentucky won 75-70.

Exhales everywhere.

"You've got to get out of your own self's way," Calipari said. "You've got to get out of your own self's way so you can bust through."

Now is the time for Kentucky to burst through.

The Saturday win over a scrappy LSU improved Calipari's club to 13-6 overall and 4-2 in the SEC. The 13 wins are nothing to write home about. A couple of those six losses are not exactly what you would call good losses. There's been a lot of résumé talk with regards to Kentucky and the NCAA Tournament.

This is the week the Cats can improve that résumé — drastically. Two road games, two great opportunities.

Tuesday night, UK travels to Oxford to play an Ole Miss team that entered Saturday night's game against Auburn with a perfect 5-0 record in the SEC. Next Saturday, UK travels to College Station to play a Texas A&M team that beat the Cats 83-71 at Rupp Arena just two Saturdays ago.

"I keep telling everybody, when you watch games, you just say, 'You know what? Let's just get right,'" Calipari said. "We have got to get this thing right. I'm not worried about another team. If I get this team right, we'll be fine."

Alex Poythress got right Saturday. The freshman scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and, for the most part, played with a new-found consistency and intensity.

"Alex was phenomenal," said teammate Nerlens Noel.

"That's Alex at his best," said Archie Goodwin. "It's hard for us to lose when he's plays like that, 20 and 12."

And yet the Cats did almost lose, or at least make a win harder than it should have been.

First half, UK shot 57.6 percent and committed five turnovers. Second half, the Cats shot 42.1 percent and committed 11 turnovers.

That second half won't get it done in Oxford. Andy Kennedy's club has bruisers who collect rebounds under the basket and a chatty but dead-eye former juco star in Marshall Henderson dropping bombs from the outside.

You better believe Oxford will be ready for Kentucky's Super Tuesday visit.

In a year in which the SEC has been a down league, there aren't that many opportunities for Kentucky to grab a marquee win. There are home-and-home games with Florida. There's a College GameDay matchup with Missouri.

But first, there is this meeting in Mississippi.

"The one thing I've told our guys, the one thing for all of us, the greatest development in our history is the ability to understand 'I can change my attitude and I can change my habits,' " Calipari said. "And when I change my attitude and habits, it changes who I am."

This week, these two games, can change Kentucky's season.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader