UK Men's Basketball

Calipari gets frank as foes get formidable

Just OK.

Only tepid praise for his undefeated team from Kentucky Coach John Calipari after Monday night's romp over winless North Carolina-Asheville.

That might be because the Cats face their first ranked opponents in No. 10 North Carolina on Saturday and No. 14 Connecticut next Wednesday.

"Folks, we've got a long way to go," Calipari told reporters after the 94-57 victory over Asheville. "We're just an OK team right now. Sometimes we're not bad. We're not good, but we're not bad. Sometimes we're just plain bad."

As he has said earlier, Calipari noted how there are more problems than patches at this early stage. He saluted the players' willingness to improve, citing DeMarcus Cousins' working to become a better free-throw shooter. Heretofore a 50-percent free-thrower, the freshman big man made eight of 10 from the line against Asheville.

"These kids respond," Calipari said, "but there's so much to do. There's only so many fingers to put in the dike. And there's water squirting out from everywhere."

Although media and coaches polls consider No. 5 Kentucky superior to North Carolina and Connecticut, Calipari suggested the Cats are vastly inferior.

"We're not near those guys right now," Calipari said before adding that UK has an opportunity to prove its worth head to head.

"They've got McDonald's All-Americans, now," Calipari said of North Carolina. "A bunch of them. Not just one or two. A bunch of them.

"They're young at guard. We're young everywhere."

Kentucky impressed Asheville players. More than one compared UK favorably to Tennessee, which beat the Bulldogs 124-49.

"Kentucky is much better by far," Asheville's D.J. Cunningham said. "And the sky is the limit. But Tennessee is still a top-10 team."

Although UK ran and romped, posting landslide advantages in points off turnovers (36-9) and fast-break points (20-4), Calipari recoiled from the idea that the Cats had reached the stage of being "unleashed" by the dribble-drive offense.

"Nah," he said. "We're not. We still don't execute well enough to be unleashed."

The Cats still too often don't get to the proper spots on the floor so a ball-handler can feel free to attack, the UK coach said.

"The other part of it is, you have to be vicious defensively to be unleashed," said Calipari, who conceded that UK showed instances of the proper merciless defense against Asheville.

As he did before the opener against Morehead State, Calipari sounded willing to lose a few games on the altar of self-discovery.

"This next 10 days, we'll find out exactly where we are," he said. "And it's not bad if we lose all three (games against North Carolina, Connecticut and at Indiana). It's not bad as long as we learn where we are and what we need to work on."

Calipari suggested that the Cats could benefit from a stiff challenge.

"They need to get punched in the nose," he said, "and have guys get beat upside-down and have you make a decision: Am I going to step this up?

"And it can't be John Wall. It's got to be all of them. It's got to be every single guy saying this ain't happening. We're bringing it."

After the Asheville game, Calipari said, he told the players that the target date for becoming a smoothly functioning team is the start of Southeastern Conference play (Jan. 9 against Georgia in Rupp).

"So I'm not panicked yet," the UK coach said. "I've got my foot on the panic button. But I don't have the other foot or my two hands on it. So we have time."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments