UK Men's Basketball

Kansas coach says undefeated season plausible for Kentucky

Bill Self 
said he didn't think UK's platoon system was a factor in rout of Kansas.
Bill Self said he didn't think UK's platoon system was a factor in rout of Kansas. AP

After his team lost 72-40 Tuesday, Kansas Coach Bill Self said talk of Kentucky going undefeated this season was not delusional.

"I don't think it's crazy to think that," he said. "I don't know if I'd base everything on this one game because this wasn't, obviously, much of a contest."

Things happen throughout a long season that make an unbeaten record implausible, if not impossible, Self said.

"They're going to go somewhere where they catch somebody when (the opponent) plays great," Self said. "It's going to be hard."

After noting that Wichita State did not lose last season until facing Kentucky in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Self said, "There's no reason that shouldn't be ... a goal. I don't know if you should talk about that now. But by February, if they're still undefeated, that could be something that could happen."

Of course, no Division I team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1975-76.

UK Coach John Calipari began his postgame news conference by trying to tamp down reaction to the lopsided victory, the second-largest margin in the series.

"No, we're not that good," he said before the first question was asked. "Next question."

Self disagreed.

"I thought they were great," the Kansas coach said. "You get long athletes who like to guard, they can cover up mistakes as well as anybody I've ever seen. They were really, really impressive."

When asked what kind of team or what kind of strategy could beat Kentucky, Self suggested it would take something unusual.

"Somebody's going to have to play a great game to beat them," he said. "There's no question about that. That could happen, especially away from home. But somebody's going to have to be special on a certain night for them to get knocked off."

The type of team that will struggle against Kentucky has a low-post scorer but not a face-the-basket forward — or a "stretch 4" in basketball parlance to help create space for the low-post scorer, Self said.

"A tough team" could challenge Kentucky, he said. "But a team skilled enough that they can drive the ball and force help and play from the perimeter rather than play from the interior."

Kansas repeatedly drove to the basket, which meant taking on UK's greatest strength: its size and depth of so-called "bigs."

Self sounded defensive when asked why. Answer: the Jayhawks were trying to play to their strength.

"Tonight, we could have been at the top of our best game and it may not have made much of a difference," he said. "The game-plan crap people talk about, this isn't football. We play a certain way. You play to your strengths. You don't change your offense because the other team is tall."

Kentucky is ahead of competition at this stage, Self said. Perhaps, in part, because of the trip to the Bahamas. Other teams will have time to catch up to Kentucky, the Kansas coach said.

"There will be teams out there that can challenge them," he said. "Whether they can beat them, I don't know."

Getting better

Calipari noted how Kentucky can improve. "We have a long way to go offensively," he said.

Calipari said future opponents, unlike Kansas, will pack a zone into the lane and invite Kentucky to shoot from the perimeter.

"We have so much to figure out about this team, it's not funny," Calipari said.

It was hard to tell if Calipari was serious or just retreating from the idea that any team can be satisfied in mid-November.

Self offered help. When asked about Calipari's comment about UK not being good, Self smiled and said, "Well, you guys who cover Kentucky, how much stuff do you actually believe that John says?"

When laughter subsided, Self added, "I'm joking on that. ... I'd say he's got to say that. For this early in the season, they're pretty good."

Shots for Aaron

In stressing how Kentucky must improve going forward, Calipari noted how shooting guard Aaron Harrison must do more scoring.

"Aaron has to get baskets for us," Calipari said. "You guys know if we're in a tight game and there's a basket that needs to be made, it's going to come from him.

"Now, we have to figure out ways, and he does, to get more shots and get more opportunities. Better shots. Maybe I've got to put in a couple things where we know to go to him."

Kentucky has "a long way to go offensively," Calipari said. The Cats shot with 43.1 percent accuracy. To win by 32 points without shooting well seemed to thrill the UK coach.

When asked how he'd feel if told his team would win by such a large margin without shooting well, Calipari said, "I would love it."

He noted how his teams at UMass did that. "Which means you're guarding," he said. "You're not turning it over. You're doing other things."

UK committed only six turnovers: none from the 12-minute mark of the first half until only 10:26 remained in the game.

Platoons

On the subject of UK's platoons, Calipari and Self differed.

Calipari saluted the platoon system of substitution as an essential building block for this Kentucky team, though not necessarily a key factor in the victory over Kansas.

"There's no way (UK could start the season so successfully) if we didn't have solid, selfless kids doing what we're doing: giving them half a game," he said. "And accepting it. Unless they allow us to do this, we can't do it."

While saying Kentucky has much improvement to make, Calipari added, "The great thing is when we come into town, the other guy (the opposing coach) has to figure out two teams."

But Self downplayed the significance of platoons. "I don't think the platoon deal (pause), I don't think it was a factor at all," he said.

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