It was impossible to know if Kentucky Coach John Calipari was merely putting a positive spin on an almost unimaginable negative or whether he meant what he said. As the saying about it being darkest right before the dawn, he all but gave thanks for Duke’s 118-84 rout of his team earlier in the week.
“I’m glad that we really got smashed . . . ,” he said after Friday night’s 71-59 victory over Southern Illinois. “What if we would have lost by five or six? ‘Oh, we’re OK.’ No, no. We’re not OK.”
Calipari suggested the loss to Duke revealed to him the way he will coach this Kentucky team. Less compassion and more spare the rod and spoil the child.
“If you demand a lot, you get a lot,” he said not for the first time in his 10 seasons as UK coach. “If you accept mediocrity, you’re going to get it every time.”
Kentucky players vouched for their coach becoming more demanding.
“Absolutely,” Immanuel Quickley said. “It’s high-level, high-intensity everything. Practice. Games. So just being ready for that is all that is.”
Calipari spoke of holding players accountable in practice by banishing them to a court-side treadmill turned up to 17 miles per hour for 30 seconds. That’s a sub-four-minute mile pace.
“I spent a couple treadmills,” EJ Montgomery said. “It’s not a fun sight. Really fast. You’ve got to hold on. You’ve got to run for your life.”
Calipari all but promised more of the same going forward. “I got a pretty good mindset (on) how I’ve got to go forward,” he said. “and what I’m going to emphasize.”
Cal salutes Quade
Calipari called the media’s attention to two plays made by Quade Green.
On the first, he said Green gave help defense for Nick Richards around the basket, stole a pass and fed the ball ahead for a fast-break layup.
On the other, Green got ahead of the pack and seemed destined for a layup in transition. Instead, he threw a pass to a trailing Keldon Johnson, who dunked.
“Did anybody think he was going to pass that ball?” Calipari said in an approving tone. “Not one soul who watched it, who was in the gym.”
UK had a whopping 14 turnovers in the first half, but only five in the second.
“Look-away passes, make the hardest play, throw bounce passes instead of lobs, loose with the ball . . . ,” Calipari said of the first half. “We got guys who’ve got to get better with the ball. . . .
“We’re going to show them tomorrow all 19 turnovers, and I’ll have one question after each one: Was that necessary?”
Sharp-shooting freshman Tyler Herro missed all six shots he took, two from three-point range, in a scoreless 20 minutes of playing time. That made him 4-for-17 overall and 1-for-8 from three-point range through two games.
“I thought the open shots he had he didn’t take . . . ,” Calipari said. “I’m telling him, ‘You’ve got to have the shot before you catch the ball. Before you catch it, you know you’ve got the shot.’ In high school, you catch it and you say, ‘Do I have a shot?’ And then you bounce it and just shoot it or do whatever. You’re the best player on the high school team.
“As you move (upward) in this sport, most of your shots are before you catch it.”
The gambling website SportsBettingDime.com did not desert Kentucky after the blowout loss to Duke. The site lengthened the odds of a national championship for UK from 6-1 on Nov. 5 to 7-1.
The odds of Duke winning the 2019 NCAA Tournament improved from 7-1 on Nov. 5 to 5-1, according to the website.
All four teams in the Champions Classic remained favorites to win their conference titles: UK at 3-1 in the SEC, Duke 5-3 in the ACC, Kansas 2-3 in the Big 12 and Michigan State 11-2 in the Big Ten.
Of course, Calipari can be animated on the sideline during a game. But how the UK coach stayed calm during the opening night 118-84 loss to Duke caught the eye of Southern Illinois Coach Barry Hinson.
“The most impressive thing I saw last night, by far, was the composure Coach Calipari had on the bench,” Hinson said on Wednesday.
Hinson and Calipari have been friends for more than 30 years.
“I don’t think there’s any way possible I would have held my composure as well as he did,” Hinson said.
It’s almost pre-dawn early in this season, but here’s something: Much of the talk in the preseason was about how good the SEC will be. Perhaps, the SEC will be the best league in the country.
Going into this weekend, SEC teams had an 0-2 record against ranked opponents. The average margin of defeat was 27.5 points.
Of course, Kentucky lost 118-84 to No. 4 Duke. And Florida lost 81-60 to No. 17 Florida State.
Tired of winning?
Kentucky’s immediate schedule ahead raises a Trumpian question: Will UK get tired of winning?
The next six opponents had a combined final record last season of 103-96. Their average final Ratings Percentage Index was 194.3.
The six are North Dakota, VMI, Winthrop, Tennessee State, Monmouth and UNC Greensboro.
The next five opponents (North Dakota, VMI, Winthrop, Tennessee State and Monmouth) had a final average RPI of 220, and a combined win-loss record of 66-88 last season.
North Dakota at No. 2 Kentucky
9 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network)