UK Men's Basketball

Calipari rejects 'slump' talk

During Tuesday's news conference, a reporter prefaced a question to John Calipari by noting the "little slump" in Kentucky's three-point shooting.

"I didn't say that," the UK coach interrupted. "You said that. I said you go through spells where you don't make shots. That's just how it is."

Semantics?

"Slump?" "Spell?" The mind drifted to a scene in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall. One Hollywood type tells another, "It's just a notion but, with a bit of backing, I think I could turn it into a concept, and then an idea."

So when does Kentucky's poor three-point shooting — 12-for-73 in the last four games and next to last among Southeastern Conference teams through 14 league games — go from a "spell" to a "slump" to a "problem?"

"It becomes a problem if you're losing a bunch of games in a row because of it," Calipari said.

That hasn't happened to Kentucky, which takes a 27-2 record into Wednesday night's game at Georgia. So, by Calipari's definition, three-point shooting is no problem.

"Look, folks," the UK coach told the assembled media. "This is what we are: a great defensive team, big, rebound, block shots. We're an unbelievable defensive team. That's why we win. It'll have nothing to do with our three-point shooting."

Neither Kentucky players nor fans should worry about three-point shooting. The UK coach acknowledged that such concern might be contributing to Kentucky's recent "spell," which includes 2-for-22 accuracy in the loss at Tennessee on Saturday.

The player should concentrate on playing to the team's strengths, he said.

"If we're not playing right, it doesn't matter if we're a one-seed (in the NCAA Tournament)," Calipari said. "We'll be the first one knocked out."

The Cats, who can clinch the SEC regular-season championship at Georgia, need to defend, rebound, block shots, play with intensity, play together. "Not gambling" on defense, Calipari said, "which we do."

Calipari cited a failure to match Tennessee's intensity, not the 2-for-22 three-point shooting, as the reason Kentucky lost.

"You've got to play like, if we lose, we're going to the electric chair," he said. "This team doesn't get that right now. ... At some point, you have to understand, either you're under attack or they're under attack. That's how it is. We were under attack (at Tennessee). Five guys came at us like pit bulls, and we yelped."

Georgia (13-14, 5-9 SEC) has surprised the league by being more pit bull than lap Dawg this season. Having received a last-place vote from every participant in a pre-season media poll, Georgia has been competitive under first-year coach Mark Fox. The Bulldogs are tied for fifth place with South Carolina going into the last week of the regular season. Ten of its 14 SEC games have been decided by fewer than 10 points, including a 76-68 loss in Rupp Arena in early January.

"They're as good as anybody in our league," Calipari said. "The biggest thing is, they're really disciplined in what they do and how they play. And they don't change for 40 minutes. ...

"This is a hard game for us, especially coming off what just happened to us."

By that, Calipari said, he meant the loss at Tennessee might cause a slippage of swagger for the Cats. Might the pressure of being expected to beat every opponent decisively affect UK?

After his team lost 78-63 at Georgia, Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl noted a newfound swagger in the Bulldogs.

"Just their character, body language and mannerisms," he said. "They recognize they're a good team. ... They're going to be reckoned with. They have a great deal more confidence in themselves and what they do."

With four big men to rotate, Georgia is one of the few SEC teams that can match UK's strength inside. Pearl called Trey Thompkins a "bona fide first-round NBA draft pick." He had 17 points and 13 rebounds against UK in Rupp Arena.

Kentuckian Albert Jackson, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes are all at least 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds."There's not many offensive rebounds" against Georgia, Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said this week. "You can't get around those guys. Forget it."

That might put greater importance on Kentucky ending its "spell" of three-point misses.

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