UK Men's Basketball

Cats brace for grueling stretch on SEC road

After Kentucky lost 71-69 at Ole Miss Tuesday, Coach John Calipari had a sobering message for his players.

"I just told them the toughest part of our season is coming up," Calipari told reporters. "So if you think this stuff is hard, wait till you see what we got going on (ahead). We got a tough road."

The trip to Ole Miss began a stretch of three road games in a four-game stretch for Kentucky. The Cats play next on Saturday at Florida, which leads the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.

The other road game in the next 10 days takes Kentucky to Vanderbilt, where UK has lost four of its last five (and six of its last nine) against the Commodores.

Tennessee breaks up the road show by playing at Kentucky next Tuesday. The Vols are one of only three teams with a winning record on the SEC road.

Terrence Jones, who led UK with 22 points and 12 rebounds at Ole Miss, noted how the Cats have to play more consistently. As happened in earlier losses at Georgia and Alabama, Kentucky got pushed around by the opponent. Thanks to a late charge, UK got in position for what Calipari called a "total steal" of a victory.

Then Chris Warren's three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left won it for the Rebels.

"We just can't start like that," Jones said. "Our schedule only gets harder from here."

The teams Kentucky must play on the road the rest of the season — Florida, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Tennessee — have a combined home record of 10-3 in league play and 41-9 overall.

Kentucky's games at Florida and Vanderbilt are already sellouts. Only a couple hundred tickets remain available for UK's game at Tennessee on March 6, UT spokesman Tom Satkowiak said.

On his weekly radio show Wednesday night, Calipari called the final stretch of the 2010-11 season the toughest part of the schedule. "The next nine (games) are all hard," he said. "We may be underdogs in half or more."

Kentucky outshot Ole Miss 49 to 42.9 percent, outrebounded the Rebels 36-27 and made more free throws (14) than Ole Miss attempted (11).

Turnovers killed the Cats. UK committed a season-high 18, which helped Ole Miss enjoy an 18-10 advantage in points off turnovers.

Freshman point guard Brandon Knight's five first-half turnovers led Calipari to ask, "What are you doing? What's going on here?"

With a six-man rotation and a team founded on freshmen and career role players, Kentucky does not enjoy a large margin for error.

"It's hard for us," Calipari said of the turnovers. "It's what we don't do. We don't turn it over. It's one of the best things we do. We got sloppy."

As Twitter, blogs, Facebook and other forms of social media delved deeply into the blame game, Calipari used his radio show to ask fans to direct their unhappiness at him.

"Be upset with me," he said. "Not these kids."

Calipari noted that UK's freshmen are being asked to make the difficult transition from high school to college basketball. Older players are adjusting to playing leading roles for the first time.

The UK coach said a friend described Kentucky as "an inexperienced team. Every once in a while they're going to lay an egg."

Calipari said he'd be asking for players to take more charges. Players will be practicing taking charges and doing the chore with gusto "or you'll be running till you lose 20 pounds, OK?" he said.

Looking back at the loss at Ole Miss, Calipari said he'd been second-guessing himself on two decisions made in the final minute. If given another chance, the UK coach said he would have called timeout when Darius Miller passed up an open shot with the Cats ahead 69-68.

"I was so stunned, I said what?!" Calipari said of Miller's pass to DeAndre Liggins. Liggins rushed a three-point air ball, which resulted in a 35-second shot clock violation.

Chris Warren's three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left put Ole Miss ahead, Calipari said he wondered if UK should have trapped Warren, forcing the Rebels' leading scorer to pass the ball.

Even upon reflection, Calipari said he was happy not to trap Warren because such a strategy would leave an Ole Miss player wide open.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader