UK Men's Basketball

At 28-2, Calipari still asking players to buy in

ATHENS, Ga. — Before Wednesday's game, Kentucky Coach John Calipari emphasized the need to keep Georgia from getting offensive rebounds. Then, in the game's first 10 minutes, Georgia used offensive rebounding to take the initiative.

"The problem was the beginning of the game again," Calipari said. "We gave up 10 offensive rebounds in the first six minutes. They didn't listen to what I said."

That failure to heed the coach's message smudged UK's 80-68 victory over Georgia and took away a bit of the satisfaction that came with clinching at least a share of the Southeastern Conference championship.

More importantly, it reminded Calipari why he's wary going forward despite Kentucky's gaudy 28-2 record and expected No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

"We have so much growing up to do," Calipari said. "I'm really worried on that front. If we're not changing, we're going into that big tournament where we are. And that's worrisome to me."

Calipari noted the up-and- down performance by freshman DeMarcus Cousins. In the first half, he grabbed only two rebounds and was limited to eight scoreless minutes because of fouls.

"In the second half, he played like the beast he is," Calipari said.

Cousins was part ballerina as well as beast. Twice on the fast break, he made like John Wall, scoring once on a pretty move in which he shifted the ball from his right hand to his left, and on the second play he passed diagonally from left to right to an open Patrick Patterson at the basket.

"I told him, you go get every ball and play in the post like you're supposed to, I'll let you do one or two of those in a game," Calipari said.

Calipari did not like DeAndre Liggins giving up two rebounds to a Georgia player.

"There's an arrogance," the UK coach said. "They forget why they're on the floor."

Then Calipari suggested what Liggins' reasoning was. "Well, John Wall was beside me," Calipari said before sharing his response, "I'm not asking John Wall to do that stuff. I'm asking you to do that stuff."

Of course, Calipari saw plenty he liked.

Kentucky blocked 14 shots (which tied for the most by a Southeastern Conference team this season) and reduced Georgia's precision offense to fits of frustration.

"The way we defended, the way we guarded, good stuff," Calipari said.

In particular, the UK coach liked Darius Miller's defensive work. Miller blocked two of Travis Leslie's shots early in the second half, sparking UK's breakout. Calipari noted those contributions came in a game Miller shot poorly (2-for-9 overall, 0-for-5 from three-point range).

"Terrific," Calipari said. "How about he can't make shots, almost shooting air balls. But he defended so well. It didn't matter."

Overall, when asked to compare this Kentucky team to his best teams at Memphis, Calipari seemed to give the nod to the Tigers.

"We're talented like that team," he said. "But that team was a veteran team. We never argued on the bench. We never had a facial. There never was any attitude.

"We went back and forth, now. But those guys were veterans. They knew what they wanted and nothing was going to stand in their way. No one's attitude. Nothing.

"We're not there yet with this team. We've got to have guys say I'm swallowing anything because we're winning."

As an example, Calipari noted poor body language as the team prepared for a shootaround practice earlier in the day before playing Georgia. It caused Calipari to contradict himself and emphasize the importance of winning a Southeastern Conference championship. Earlier, he had dismissed the league title as secondary to the NCAA Tournament. But the UK coach sensed he needed to prod his players.

"Do you understand what we're playing for today?" Calipari said he told the players.

Apparently, the reminder worked. Calipari described the shootaround as "sharp" with guys "bouncy."

After the game, Calipari saluted Georgia Coach Mark Fox for perhaps doing the best coaching job in the SEC this season.

"Georgia's kids know for 40 minutes how they're going to play," Calipari said. "And they play that way. They grind it and they get the ball where they're supposed to. They all do their jobs.

"You know how hard that is? I'm finding out how hard it is getting guys to accept what they have to do and how they have to play."