UK Men's Basketball

Calipari: Cats have a lot to learn

See offense improve. Watch defense decline.

That one-step-forward, one-step-backward start to his first season as Kentucky coach had John Calipari in search of an analogy on Friday.

"I've got five fingers in the dike," he said, "and we have water from seven different holes.

"Just because we're young."

With his team playing Rider on Saturday in Rupp Arena, Calipari reminded reporters (and perhaps himself) that Kentucky starts three freshmen. UK uses a fourth freshman as a front-court regular.

So a day after railing about poor defense (33 — yes, 33 — three-pointers surrendered in the last two games), Calipari looked at the team half-full of improvement.

"We didn't take any bad shots," he said of the offensive improvement.

Not that Calipari spoke of smooth sailing ahead. He offered advice for UK fans who might be fretful.

"Tell them, do what I'm doing," Calipari said. "Just hold onto your seat, close your eyes (and) frown. ... I have no idea what they're going to do."

Calipari spoke longingly of the semester break, when he envisions three-a-day practices. "When we get to that, you'll see us come together and get better," he said.

Meanwhile, Kentucky looks to plug the deluge of three-point baskets gushing through that Big Blue dike.

Since nothing seems to be coming easy, it figures the schedule complicates that task. Rider, which set a school record for three-pointers earlier this season, will be UK's second opponent in 36 hours in the Cancun Challenge's warm-up phase. Calipari voiced concern about fatigue.

Rather than a tough practice Friday, Calipari said UK would watch tape, shoot free throws and work on transition defense.

"My concern is just to be fresh for the game (against Rider)," said Calipari, who noted that four starters played 31 or more minutes against Sam Houston State.

As for three-point defense, Calipari lamented that teammates did not talk to one another in picking up shooters in transition. "Absolutely no communication," he said.

Calipari spoke of Rider coming out firing. "Their first seven, eight shots will be from three," he said. "Boom.

"... Rider could come out and make 20 threes because they're going to shoot enough to get 20. If they do make 20, we just lost the game. That's just how it is."

Rider, which led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in three-point accuracy the past two seasons, made a school-record 16 treys against Lehigh earlier this season. The Broncs made 10 of 16 from beyond the arc in a win at Mississippi State. Then Rider made only seven of 23 in a loss at Virginia on Thursday.

Rider Coach Tommy Dempsey said he had three perimeter shooters in his starting lineup and three more on the bench.

"If you have any chance to upset a team of Kentucky's caliber, you're certainly going to have to make shots," he said.

Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury cited his team's lack of depth as a factor in losing to Rider.

"They are a good team," Stansbury said of Rider. "I don't think Kentucky will have much of a problem with them because they (the Cats) have enough size and depth to play against them. We had no depth at all with our suspensions and injuries.

"They do have guys who can make shots. Any time you can make shots, you're a scary team."

Virginia's heady play contributed mightily to beating Rider. The Cavaliers worked patiently for shots (52 percent accuracy) and threw off Rider's rhythm.

"We were chasing balls all night and never got into a good flow," Dempsey said. "We missed a lot of shots that we've been making. When you play from behind, sometimes you play too fast and rush your shots."

Playing the proper pace is one of those holes that Calipari wants to plug. Blame youth.

"What we don't know in those (last) three, four minutes, we're up 20, you shoot it quick?" he said. "Why would you shoot it quick? Take a quick shot, or try to make a tough play or turn it over early in the (shot) clock, for what reason? That stuff we don't know yet."

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