UK Men's Basketball

Calipari bemoans Cats' 'sloppy' starts

Kentucky Wildcats forward Terrence Jones (3) lost the ball out of bounds as Kentucky played Kansas  in the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday November 15, 2011 in New York, NY.
Kentucky Wildcats forward Terrence Jones (3) lost the ball out of bounds as Kentucky played Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday November 15, 2011 in New York, NY. Lexington Herald-Leader

That the Cats don't immediately pounce on opponents concerns Kentucky Coach John Calipari. Most recently, he lamented a "sloppy" start to UK's 87-63 victory over Portland on Saturday night.

Portland led 7-6 four minutes into the game. It wasn't until early in the second half that Kentucky exerted its superiority.

"I thought the first play, we had a couple guys, their motors weren't running," Calipari said. " ... You can't start games like that. You've got to come out of the gate with some aggression, and you've got to get at that rim and get fouled."

Kentucky's first possession saw All-American candidate Terrence Jones drive purposefully to a layup.

"The first play was great," Calipari said. "Then we had about five plays after that (that) were just sloppy."

On the next three UK possessions, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb missed three-point attempts, then Anthony Davis misfired after securing a loose ball in the lane.

Of course, it's still November. And even at a later juncture of the season, seamless basketball is more a theoretical concept than practical reality. Isn't it a game of runs?

"That's true," freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said of the inevitability of sloppiness. "Every team. The (Miami) Heat, too."

But that doesn't mean a coach simply accepts the moments when inattention drains away momentum. That seems especially true for a freshman-oriented UK team looking to establish good habits.

Saturday marked the fourth time in six games that the Cats toyed with an opponent for awhile, playfully batting it to and fro before extending its claws and administrating the coup de grace.

In the opener against Marist, Kentucky led "only" by nine at halftime. Then the Cats buried the opponent 63-22 avalanche in the second half.

Kentucky trailed early against Kansas (10-3) and Old Dominion (18-11) before winning by 10-point margins.

Not that UK is incapable of quickly crushing an opponent's will. Shortly after tip off, the Cats led 14-0 against Radford and 16-5 against Penn State.

Calipari suggested that Kentucky sometimes takes the easy way out and launches perimeter jump shots.

"We need to be a little more physical and not settle for some of the jumpers we settle for, especially if you're running something to post the ball," he said. "It's not that I don't want guys to shoot balls. But I'm saying if we're going to run something to post it, post it first, and then shoot a jumper. We came down and shot jumpers right away."

Calipari also noted that Portland held its own physically. Unafraid from the start, the Pilots matched UK's 13 offensive rebounds and actually won the rebounding battle 39-38.

"They were physical again," he said, meaning the Pilots became another opponent to take the physical play to UK. "They pushed us in the back. They wedged us, and we weren't down and ready to go."

Kentucky's opponents this week — St. John's on Thursday and North Carolina on Saturday — don't figure to be shrinking violets, Calipari said. So the Cats need to begin jockeying for rebounding position and holding their own physically before the shot hits the rim.

"If we don't, it'll be hard for us to win either of the next two games," Calipari said before adding, perhaps for emphasis, "I don't think we can win either because both of them are pretty good rebounding teams."

Whatever happens this week, senior Darius Miller expressed confidence the Cats will grow and benefit from any sloppy play this early-season.

"I know it'll get better with experience," he said. "We had that problem last year. I know Coach Cal will get it right."

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