UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Cats must play like there's no tomorrow

UK senior Darius Miller put in a shot over Michael Javes.
UK senior Darius Miller put in a shot over Michael Javes. Herald-Leader

LOUISVILLE — Big Blue Nation got a happy New Year with that win over archrival Louisville on Saturday.

John Calipari got mad.

He spent New Year's Day having some heart-to-hearts with his players, the tone of which, the coach half-joked, had "a couple of guys crying."

Then Tuesday night, he sent his Cats out on the Freedom Hall floor to play a 5-10 Arkansas Little-Rock team whose leading scorer was out with a shoulder injury.

Halftime: Kentucky trailed by three.

Cal's reaction?

"I think that's clear," said freshman center Anthony Davis. "He was very angry with us. When he gets angry, we get angry because he is angry."

Second half: Kentucky outscored the Trojans by 25 to win 73-51.

"I didn't raise my voice that much," Calipari claimed. "I just said, 'Guys, 10 offensive rebounds. (No.) 12 has seven offensive rebounds. Does anybody want to guard the guy? Somebody step up and say, 'I'll take 12.' That's what I said.

"We had 13 turnovers. Why? Because they got a little rough? You want me to talk to the officials? You want to talk to the officials? What do you want to do?

"If you're tired, take yourself out. You put the towel over your head like you just ran a marathon, why are you playing then? Let somebody else play?

"We've got a ways to go. This is not going to be easy."

There it is right there: Enemy No. 1 for this Kentucky team is the thought that it is going to be easy.

This team is so good, so talented, so skilled, so long, so athletic, so scary at times, so praised, and (in the end) so young, it is easy to see how it would think that this college thing is a piece of a cake.

After all, it beat Kansas in Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic. It beat pre-season No. 1 North Carolina, the veteran Heels, in Rupp. It shot 29 percent, turned it over 21 times, and still beat archrival Louisville last week.

It has handled every other outmanned foe while barely breaking a sweat.

Tuesday night, when the Cats finally put the thing in gear, the engine roared.

Anthony Davis scored 22 points, grabbed 16 rebounds. Senior Darius Miller scored 15 points to join the 1,000-point club. Kentucky held the Trojans to just 26 percent shooting and ran its record to 14-1.

True, there is that one blemish, the one-point loss at Indiana, but as Calipari said in his post-game interview Tuesday, his players look at that Dec. 10 as a game in which UK was up two late and the Hoosiers hit a "lucky" shot.

Besides, Indiana beat then No. 2 Ohio State last Saturday. So it's no big deal that UK lost in Bloomington, right?

"That's what they think," Calipari said.

It's not the way he wants them to think.

He wants them to think aggressively. He wants them to think viciously. He wants them to dive on the floor, snatch loose balls, play without fear. He wants them to play like there's no tomorrow.

That's because there isn't.

It goes back to something Calipari touched on earlier this season. With a group of players who more than likely will be cashing NBA paychecks next year, opportunity has a short knock.

You either answer it, or that knocking stops.

So the head coach pushes. He knows conference play is coming up, and before you know it the tournament is coming up. So he harps more. He wants more. He wants it now.

"It wears on you. It wears you out," said Calipari, speaking as a coach. "They're trying. They're listening, and they like each other. But they're not taking that next step."

Of course, taking that next step is always hard.

Especially for a team that makes the mistake of believing it should all be easy.

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