Kentucky Coach John Calipari wasn’t the answer man at Thursday’s news conference. He was the question man.
Two of his questions were:
1. Why does Kentucky play these late games?
Calipari was referring to UK’s game against Kansas, which started about 10 p.m. EST.
Calipari said he got home at 3:20 a.m. EST. The players went to class Wednesday morning.
“I wouldn’t have gone to class,” he said. “You couldn’t have dragged me out of bed (after) four hours and then said, ‘OK, get up and go to class.’”
When it was suggested that Kentucky and other college teams could dictate starting times by simply taking less TV money, Calipari joked (?), “I would do it just as long as they don’t cut my pay. I think it’s a great idea.”
2. Why is Kentucky playing on Fridays? The game against East Tennessee State will be the fifth straight Friday that Kentucky is playing a scrimmage, exhibition or game.
“We don’t have time to do all the stuff we’ve got to do,” Calipari said. “I’m just kind of picking and choosing ‘Let’s work on it.’”
The game against East Tennessee State will be the fourth time UK plays in eight days amid a stretch of seven contests in 17 days.
Both questions referenced the amount of improvement Kentucky wants to make — and needs to make — to be a national contender.
Of the work the Cats must do, Calipari again mentioned going over late-game situations. With what amounts to a freshman team, close games against Vermont (a victory) and Kansas (a loss) may prove to be the norm rather than the exception this season.
“I’ve just got to teach them how to win close games,” Calipari said. Toward that end, he said he would show the players the last four minutes of the game against Kansas. “So they can see it, and I can talk them through what was good and what wasn’t good,” he said.
Kentucky will also need to work on limiting turnovers. UK had 18 turnovers against Kansas. Some Calipari attributed to poor spacing on the floor, others to “making the hardest play” rather than the fundamentally sound play.
Calipari also said he hopes Kevin Knox can add another option to his offensive game.
An increasingly familiar theme — winning basketball — got another airing. Calipari reduced it to a few fundamentals: 1. stay in front of your man; 2. see the ball so you can be in position to help defend; 3. block out and rebound; 4. run hard in transition, and if a scoring opportunity isn’t readily available, work to get a shot that teammates will be in position to rebound or work to draw a foul.
“How about we get that down,” Calipari said. “Then we worry about all the other (stuff).”
Returning to Tuesday’s loss to Kansas, Calipari said, “I thought we could have gotten a better shot a couple times down (the court). And I think we looked a little disorganized. Guess what? We were.”
Calipari accentuated the positive: the Kansas game was a one-possession game inside the final 30 seconds.
“I kind of felt we were going to get smashed up there,” he said, “and at the beginning of the game, a lot of people thought we were going to get smashed up there.”
Calipari took solace in how Kentucky kept competing even though it trailed by double digits inside the first six minutes and by as much as six points midway through the second half.
“They didn’t wilt . . . ,” he said. “Good sign.”
A deadline is not looming on Kentucky’s need to improve. But it will loom.
“Hopefully, by January, we have everything to where we’re not perfect (but) we have an idea of how we’re playing to win.”
If UK’s freshmen need a model to follow, Calipari offered up Vermont.
“They didn’t blink . . . ,” he said. “They knew how they were going to get a shot. That’s a veteran team. They’ve been together three years. That’s what happens to a veteran team.
“We’ve got to teach that in a short period of time.”
East Tennessee State at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1
Records: ETSU 1-1, Kentucky 2-1
Series: Kentucky leads 4-0
Last meeting: Kentucky won 88-65 on Nov. 12, 2010, in Lexington.