UK Men's Basketball

UK men still adjusting to college terrain, teammates

Wildcats guard Doron Lamb put in a shot around North Carolina's John Henson on Saturday. The freshman scored a career-high 24 points in Kentucky's 75-73 loss.
Wildcats guard Doron Lamb put in a shot around North Carolina's John Henson on Saturday. The freshman scored a career-high 24 points in Kentucky's 75-73 loss.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari made a surprising observation about Wednesday night's game against Notre Dame in Freedom Hall. Noting Notre Dame's senior-laden team, he said, "I'm talking about five seniors ... who've played on that floor more than my guys."

Given the contrast between the Kiddie Cats and Notre Dame's all-senior starting lineup, the Irish experience might lessen the home-state advantage UK takes into this Southeastern Conference-Big East Invitational doubleheader. Arkansas plays Seton Hall in the first game.

That might be especially true given how UK's youth was not served in Saturday's loss at North Carolina.

"We are not yet playing for each other," Calipari said Tuesday. "We're still kind of playing, and there's spurts we look good. But we're not playing for each other yet.

"That's what we have to crack and get to."

Toward that end, Calipari said he had been preaching the virtues of trust to his freshman-oriented team. Because college basketball is a new experience for several players, the UK coach begins with defining trust.

Trust that a teammate will cover for mistakes born from playing aggressive defense.

Trust that a teammate will cover your man if you rotate to provide help defense.

"We were passive at North Carolina," Calipari said. "They were aggressive."

Trust that making an extra pass does not mean the ball might not come back to you if you're open.

Trust that drawing defensive help with a penetrating drive will yield a pass to an open teammate.

"We have good kids," Calipari said. "It's just that they've never been in this environment."

Noting the career-high 24 points scored by freshman Doron Lamb at North Carolina, Calipari said, "Lamb should have gotten the ball more. Guys were (thinking), 'He shot the last two. I'm getting the next one.' No, he made the last two. You missed the last four. He shoots this one."

Calipari cited several lapses in judgment at North Carolina. Leads of 25-17, 57-51 and 68-64 dissolved when "everybody broke off (the play) and did their own thing."

The experience Kentucky's fuzzy-cheeked players need to acquire extends to pre-game preparation. Calipari noted the mistake Terrence Jones and another unnamed player made by napping the morning of the North Carolina game.

"You get up for a pre-game meal," Calipari said, "and from that moment on, everything you're doing is geared toward getting you ready for a game. You don't go back to sleep."

When asked why he napped, Jones said, "I slept because Doron turned off the TV."

These lapses are nothing out of the ordinary for a young team, said Calipari, who noted similar issues last season with John Wall's turnovers and DeMarcus Cousins' general immaturity.

"The difference is we don't have as many guys," said Calipari, meaning Kentucky's 10-man roster and dependable rotation of only seven players puts a greater priority on team-wide contributions.

"We need everything out of everybody," the UK coach said. "This isn't one of those years you can say these two are no-shows."

Given Jones' 3-for-17 shooting and fouling out, "Then everybody else has to be play perfectly," Calipari said.

No wonder Jones said of the North Carolina game, "I take the loss as it being my fault."

Meanwhile, Notre Dame has no losses, its 8-0 record the team's best start since a 12-0 beginning to the 1973-74 season. The Irish players have also experienced adversity, learning to play without senior star Luke Harangody for five games late last season.

"We have older guys who've been in the system and played in big games," Coach Mike Brey said Monday. "... I think that's an advantage for us. Hopefully it is Wednesday in the first true road atmosphere for us (this season)."

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader