UK Men's Basketball

Calipari gives Cats a kick in the Jorts

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari bit his lip as official Michael Stephens told him to quit talking to him, as #3 Kentucky defeated #4 Louisville 69-62  on Saturday  December 31, 2011  in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari bit his lip as official Michael Stephens told him to quit talking to him, as #3 Kentucky defeated #4 Louisville 69-62 on Saturday December 31, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

His team has won 13 of 14 games, the lone loss requiring a buzzer-beating three-pointer that sent rabidly hostile Indiana fans stampeding onto the court in celebration. Separate panels of media members and coaches rank Kentucky No. 2 in the nation. Statistically, the Cats led the nation is blocks, rank second in field-goal defense, No. 12 in rebound margin and a solid top 30 in shooting.

Ahh, time for what UK Coach John Calipari called a "heart-to-heart" on Sunday.

Sure, Kentucky beat arch-rival Louisville the day before. But the victory gave Calipari a much-desired reason to keep spurring his team.

As Calipari explained to reporters Monday, UK coaches went over the plan for the first offensive possession of the U of L game 22 times. That included practice on Friday, the shootaround before Saturday's game, on the greaseboard in the locker room prior to taking the court and then in the huddle after the introduction of lineups.

Then a player — Calipari didn't reveal who — failed to follow instructions. Even though UK scored on its first possession (Darius Miller hit a three-pointer), the coach made an issue of the breakdown.

"You just knew they're more concerned with themselves than with their teammates," Calipari said.

The Kentucky coach cited a recent text-message exchange with former big man Josh Harrellson as an example of what he wants from the current players. Calipari gave Harrellson, now off to a promising start as a rookie for the New York Knicks, some advice.

"You better work like you've accomplished nothing," Calipari texted Harrellson.

The exchanged continued Calipari facetiously texting Harrellson, "Looks like I held you back."To which, Harrellson replied, "Coach, you did fine. We had a terrific shooting team. I didn't need to shoot jumpers."

As Calipari recalled the exchange of text messages, Harrellson's selflessness gave the current Cats an example to follow.

"Did it work out for him?" Calipari said. It was a rhetorical question. "You don't have to worry about yourself. Do what you're supposed to be. You'll be presented in a way (NBA) people like you."

Early in the 11-minute session with reporters, Calipari verbally ran with a question about the number of shots taken by point guard Marquis Teague.

"If anybody here is worrying about shots, I said it (Sunday to the team), they can't," the UK coach said. "Because guys doing the dirty work don't complain about shots. So if anybody else complains about shots in here, you have no right."

Meanwhile, Kentucky's opponent Tuesday night in Freedom Hall, Arkansas-Little Rock, might have difficulty seeing the problem. Steve Shields, the winningest coach in UALR history, said he studied UK statistics on his team's Sunday flight from Denver to Louisville. He looked for statistical hints of vulnerability.

"You try to pinpoint certain things about the team," Shields said. "Maybe this. Maybe that."

Shields saw UK's:

■ 48.4-percent shooting, making the Cats the nation's 26th-best shooting team).

■ "very solid" three-point accuracy (36.3 percent).

■ a "great rebounding team." UK ranked No. 12 nationally with a margin of plus 8.3. As Shields noted, that margin in the last five games is plus 11.2.

■ "Then you look at free throws," Shields said. "Maybe they're bad free-throw shooters. No, dang, they're shooting them well." UK is making 71 percent of its free throw. Maybe more tellingly, the Cats have made more free throws (252) than the opposition has attempted (235).

■ The field-goal defense of 35 percent ranks behind only Wisconsin (34.5 percent).

■ Anthony Davis leads the nation in blocks (4.6 per game) as does Kentucky (9.2 per game).

"We have a tough challenge," Shields said.

The challenge might be tougher if Will Neighbour does not play against Kentucky. Neighbor, UALR's leading scorer (12.0 ppg) and rebounder (6.1 rpg), injured his right shoulder in the final seconds of Saturday's victory at Denver.

Calipari pooh-poohed the suggestion of a letdown after Kentucky's victory over Louisville. He intended his heart-to-heart talk with players Sunday as a way to keep the dazzling accomplishments to date from blinding the players to what's required going forward.

"I'm trying to keep these guys on a path they need to be on," Calipari said. "Because we're not as good as we need to be, right now."

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