Fewer turnovers. More three-pointers.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari spoke of those objectives going into a basketball future that begins with a game Tuesday night against Mississippi State. And Calipari had specific goals in mind for each of those phases of the game.
With turnovers, Calipari sounded like Goldilocks by suggesting only five or six turnovers in a game would be too few. “We’re not being aggressive enough,” he said. But the 16 at South Carolina last week or the 17 against Florida over the weekend were too many. “That’s being sloppy,” he said, “and a little bit undisciplined.”
However, 10 or 11 turnovers would be — ahh — just right, he said.
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For the season, Kentucky is averaging 14.3 turnovers (13.6 in Southeastern Conference games). But the Cats have as many turnovers (271) as assists (271) on the season, and a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in SEC games (78-95).
Calipari sounded taken aback by the team’s six traveling violations against Florida. After reviewing video of the game, he said he did not think the correct call was made on a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander walk. But Calipari had no argument with Kevin Knox’s three travels.
“He’s not ready to break that habit,” Calipari said, presumably meaning a shuffle of the feet as Knox begins a drive. “And it’s a habit that he’s had. And they’re walks.
“You can’t have six walks in a basketball game.”
As for more three-pointers, Calipari said that six or seven makes in 15 to 18 attempts would be about right.
In its last two games, UK made only five of 28 three-point shots (17.8-percent accuracy).
When asked why he wants the Cats to shoot and make more threes, Calipari said, “Because we’re capable of that. And I think that’s not an unrealistic number.”
‘It’s all fixable’
Kentucky goes into the game against Mississippi State having not endured a losing streak of more than two games since the last four regular-season games of Billy Gillispie’s time as coach (2008-09).
As he did after the loss to Florida, Calipari seemed to try to calm always-jittery UK fans.
“It’s all fixable,” he said before adding, “I’m coach at Kentucky. This is what you deal with. I’m not shying away from it. It’s not overwhelming me. I’m not panicked.”
That said, Calipari also hinted that Kentucky could lose more games.
“I will say every game we play, including Mississippi State, they’re capable of beating us,” Calipari said. “Just how it is. We’re also capable of winning … every game from here on out.”
Gilgeous-Alexander was philosophical about UK’s two-game losing streak.
“It’s the game of basketball,” he said. “You’re going to lose two now and then. You’re going to go through slumps.”
Cal no Socialist?
Heralded prospect Zion Williamson committing to Duke rather than, among others, Kentucky on Saturday prompted recruiting questions.
Calipari said he was not sure if Kentucky would sign other prospects for the class of 2018. He also seemed to promote UK’s sales pitch over Duke’s sales pitch.
“I don’t sell, ‘when you come here the university and the state will take care of you for the rest of your life,’” he said. “You may buy that, and I have some great property and some swampland down in Florida to sell you, too.”
By contrast, Calipari said, UK sells self-reliance and challenges prospects (with UK’s help) to make it because of their own efforts.
“(Success for) everyone of us in this country is based on, you get to take care of yourself …,” Calipari said. “There’s no socialism here. This stuff is you’ve got to go do it, and we’re going to help you do it. Some like that, some don’t like that.”
Of course, “it” means getting to the NBA. As always, Calipari did not miss a chance to remind anyone listening that Kentucky puts players in position to make it in the NBA.
“Ones that come here are worth over a BILLION dollars,” he said putting extra emphasis on the word billion.
Mississippi State (14-5 overall, 2-4 in the SEC) has lost 11 straight games on the opponent’s home court dating back to last season. “It’s very tough,” freshman point guard Nick Weatherspoon said of playing “true” road games. “I know a lot of teams play better in front of their crowd. On the road, it’s hard to call plays and things like that. You just have to be focused.” … Joe Tessitore, Sean Farnham and sideline reporter Laura Rutledge will call the game for ESPN.