UK Men's Basketball

Cal: Undefeated Cats far from perfect

The more Kentucky wins, the more Coach John Calipari protests that his team narrowly avoided almost certain defeat.

So after UK beat Georgia 76-68 on Saturday, Calipari predictably said, "They had us. Now we're 9-7."

Reporters audibly groaned. They've repeatedly heard Calipari whittle down Kentucky's undefeated record to something that better suggests a team needing to work hard and improve.

While Kentucky has achieved the program's first 16-0 start to a season since Rupp's Runts, Calipari talks about the record disguising holes that need fixing.

Calipari does not want the Cats to settle.

It's a tried and true practice for Kentucky basketball. During the seldom competitive national championship season of 1995-96, Coach Rick Pitino often seemed grumpy after a dominating performance.

A Google search for quotations attributed to Adolph Rupp included a famous story from a game in 1944. Kentucky led Arkansas State 34-4 at halftime. The players were confident the hard-to-please Rupp would be satisfied with the first half.

After looking at the scorebook, Rupp said, "Who's guarding No. 12?"

Jack Parkinson said, "I am."

To which Rupp said, "Well, get on him because he's running absolutely wild."

Georgia's season-high 26 turnovers gave Calipari a reason to promote the need to strive for improvement.

"If they didn't turn it over so much, we'd have been down 15 at halftime," the UK coach said.

Georgia led 35-34 at the half despite committing 13 turnovers.

"They turned it over," Calipari said. "That's the only reason we were in the game."

Georgia figured to turn the ball over. Going into the game, Coach Mark Fox cited "inconsistent" guard play as a problem. Georgia ranked 279th nationally in turnover margin.

And Calipari said UK tweaked its full-court defense last week in order to put more pressure on opposing ball handlers. Not just for Georgia, but going forward in the schedule, he said.

"If they have less turnovers, they probably win the game," the UK coach said of Georgia.

Even with the turnovers, Georgia trailed by only two points with less than 40 seconds left.

"Certainly, a big part of the game," Fox said of the turnovers. "We turned it over too much to win on the road."

But, he added, "We still could have overcome that."

More than once, the ever-demanding Calipari noted that the UK bench contributed too little: nine points and eight rebounds in a collective 52 minutes. Georgia's reservists had nine points and six rebounds in 36 minutes.

"I didn't think our bench did what we needed them to do and I don't know exactly why," Calipari said. "But they played tentatively. Our bench didn't give us what we need to get to be good."

Before the game, Calipari urged All-American Patrick Patterson to rebound more assertively and not take for granted that freshman DeMarcus Cousins would get the ball. Against Georgia, Patterson grabbed six rebounds in 37 minutes.

Not good enough. Noting the entertaining match-up against Trey Thompkins, Calipari suggested Patterson was too willing to accept the Georgia player's successes.

"You've got to take it as a personal affront," the UK coach said. "The guy was laughing and talking. 'I'm the first-team All-American.'

"I've got to bring it out of him. We really need him."

Patterson accepted the prodding.

"Coach Calipari wants us to play our best basketball possible," he said. "He wants us to continue practicing and playing hard and to improve. He consistently pushes us day in and day out to get better. He wants us to win the game by as much as we can."

Something Cousins said after the Georgia game suggested Calipari needs to keep prodding the Cats.

Earlier in the week, Calipari noted how it was a "scary game" because the players might need convincing that Georgia posed a threat.

When asked after the game if he had been scared, Cousins said, "Nah, I wasn't scared."

Then the freshman big man observed, "Every team scares Cal."