UK Men's Basketball

Pikeville coach ponders potential pitfalls for UK

Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells urged his team on against Kentucky.
Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells urged his team on against Kentucky. Herald-Leader

With Kentucky winning by 48 points (and looking good doing it), the idea of finding flaws seemed more intellectual exercise than sober attempt at analysis. Like fretting that Penelope Cruz has a hair out of place (or, if you prefer, George Clooney needs to shine his shoes).

But Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells played the good sport. In response to a reporter's question, he suggested Kentucky was not so all-powerful as to be immune to pitfalls this coming season.

"They didn't have any weaknesses that we could expose," he said before adding, "I think there will be some times where they have to not get fat (and) happy. They have to be hungry all the time and all night. There will be nights throughout a college basketball season when you just don't have it. Somebody gets hurt, injuries and rotations."

Then Wells facetiously added, "I would like to have some of the problems that they've had."

Willie Cauley-Stein, one of UK's four players 6-foot-10 or taller, scoffed at the notion of over-confidence killing the Cats in a particular game. He suggested that playing for Kentucky means inspired opponents in every game, thus heightening UK's readiness.

As Cauley-Stein saw it, basic competitiveness will keep the Cats grounded and on task. "That happens just by throwing the (Kentucky) jersey on ... ," he said. "If we were anybody else and we didn't have the (UK) jersey on, you wouldn't ask me that question."

Of course, even Kentucky players are human. They can get in a momentary lull (think at Mississippi State last season when seldom-used Jon Hood came off the bench and shook the Cats out of their doldrums). Cauley-Stein suggested that UK's veterans — juniors Alex Poythress and himself, plus sophomores Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and Aaron and Andrew Harrison — know how zealous each and every opponent figures to be.

"You have to know with us veteran guys back, it's easier" to deal with over-confidence, Cauley-Stein said.

Wells also suggested another potential problem, this one thick with Catch-22 implications and therefore more sticky. With enough players to necessitate platoons, Kentucky cannot give any five-player unit the same amount of playing time that another team, less deep, can use to hone its starters into a cohesive unit of five players playing with one mind. Yet to concentrate on a tighter rotation of, say, seven players is to invite wholesale disgruntlement.

"I do think that will be some kind of concern for them," Wells said. "I like to give a group a role and let them play all of the minutes. But that's going to be a challenge for Cal (UK Coach John Calipari)."

Wells expressed confidence that Calipari will figure out how to use more players while also developing cohesion.

"I think that sometimes that will be an issue: How he can keep those guys happy," Wells said. "I can't keep five guys happy. But he's the master at that. I think they'll be fine. They seem like they love each other. There's a lot of good continuity on the floor for them."

Although Pikeville lost 116-68 Monday night, the Bears also provided a glimpse at another threat to Kentucky hegemony this season. A spectacular individual performance can overcome a more talented team on a given night. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale touched on this after Kentucky overwhelmed Pikeville. "If the NCAA had NBA 4 of 7, U would just hand the trophy to BBN," he tweeted. "But in college hoops, 1 bad night & it is over!"

In 1995-96, the recent Kentucky season seemingly most analogous to 2014-15, UMass big man Marcus Camby (32 points, nine rebounds, five blocks) and Mississippi State wing Dontae' Jones (28 points, 11 rebounds) handed the eventual national champion Cats their only losses.

Pikeville's K.K. Simmons, who earlier in his college career played for UNC Wilmington and Kent State, made six of nine three-point shots and scored 28 points Monday night. It was a performance that hinted at the impact one player can have.

"Those guys are pros," he said of UK's players. "I wanted to see where I could measure up to those guys playing-wise."

While not necessarily speaking of Simmons, Cauley-Stein noted how a celebrated freshman might overlook an opponent.

"You're, like, 'Oh, I just came out of high school; I can just show up and play,'" he said. "Nah. You've got guys going off for 30 that you should be locking up. And they're going off for 30 just because they came to play and you're just, like, eh.

"Every game is a war, and you have to approach it that way."

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