The crowd roared throughout Kentucky’s exciting 82-77 victory at Georgia Saturday night. Georgia fans and Kentucky fans tried to out-shout each on several occasions: Go-Big-Blue and U-G-A at high decibels.
But the noise did not drown out the sound of the NCAA Tournament clock ticking in UK Coach John Calipari’s mind.
After the game, Calipari said it was time for this latest freshman-dependent Kentucky team to move beyond the developmental stage and become a team ready for the post-season.
“This is part of growing,” he said. “Putting on big man pants. This is now what we’ve got to do. Now, we’ve got to go.”
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As part of that process, Calipari said he was receding as the hands-on director. It was time for the players to demonstrate what they’ve learned.
“I want to back up and not coach as much,” Calipari said. “I literally did not coach as much today. … It’s more on them.”
Calipari said he would work on “tactical things.” Associate coach Kenny Payne would concentrate on offense, assistant Tony Barbee on defense.
The players’ role? “They’re responsible for their energy, their enthusiasm, their passion,” Calipari said. “They’re responsible for that one.”
Cal salutes Fox
Calipari saluted Georgia Coach Mark Fox, who apparently is the target of some fan grumbling.
Calipari pointed out the hard-luck Georgia has endured this season. Overtime losses to Florida and Kentucky. The loss at Texas A&M when the clock malfunctioned. Then came Saturday’s loss in the final minute to UK.
“But he keeps his team together,” Calipari said. “That’s coaching. Not when things are going good. It’s when things go south, you lose a bunch in a row.”
Three of the top four scorers in SEC play were in the game: Malik Monk of UK (22.2 ppg), Yante Maten of Georgia (18.9 ppg) and J.J. Frazier of Georgia (18.2 ppg).
Going into this weekend’s play, Sindarius Thornwell of South Carolina led the SEC in scoring in league games (22.5 ppg).
According to the official statistics, De’Aaron Fox was the third-best shooter in league games. Of course, his 50.4-percent accuracy going into the game was a product of driving layups. He had made one of nine three-point shots in the five most recent games, and only eight of 25 shots in the last two.
Against Georgia, Fox made four of 14 shots, and missed his only two three-point attempts.
Fox did make eight of 10 free throws.
“I like the fact De’Aaron missed two free throws,” Calipari said, “then came back and made eight in a row.”
Fox pointed out that his two misses were his first two attempts, and came almost 33 minutes into the game.
When asked why he missed the free throws, Fox said, “Just because I hadn’t been making anything. That was my first trip to the line. I missed the first one, Malik (Monk) said something to me about the goal. I kind of missed the second one and said, ‘All right. All right. I think I’m fine now.’”
Casual is good?
Fox attributed his eight-for-eight free-throw shooting in the final 4:36 to a relaxed approach.
“That kind of plays into when (Calipari) says I’m nonchalant,” Fox said. Actually, Calipari uses the word “casual.”
“I’m not listening to the crowd,” Fox said. “It’s just me and the goal. And I don’t hear anything of that (crowd noise).”
Derek Willis equaled his career-high of 12 rebounds.
“I didn’t think I had a really good game, honestly,” he said. “I think defensively … . , it was kind of tough because of the Frazier kid.”
J.J. Frazier repeated directed successful pick-and-roll plays against UK.
“That was definitely getting under my skin,” Willis said. “So I tried to do something else, and rebounding was what I came up with.”
J.J. Frazier’s season-high 36 points moved into the top 10 on Georgia’s career scoring list. He moved paste James Banks and D.A. Layne in increasing his career total to 1,455 points.
Frazier became only the third player to be in Georgia’s career top 10 in points, assists and steals.
It was the third game of his career in which he scored 35 or more points.
Kentucky at Missouri
9 p.m. Tuesday (SEC Network)