UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky players see room for improvement even after dominant performance

John Calipari talked to his team during the first half of the Cats' trouncing of No. 5 Kansas on Tuesday. After the 32-point victory, Calipari began the news conference saying, "No, we're not that good."
John Calipari talked to his team during the first half of the Cats' trouncing of No. 5 Kansas on Tuesday. After the 32-point victory, Calipari began the news conference saying, "No, we're not that good." AP

To borrow from college basketball Pied Piper Dick Vitale, Kentucky's performance against Kansas was awesome with a capital A. But the timing was awkward with a capital A.

UK's 72-40 rout of Kansas on Tuesday brought to mind a word of caution expressed by John Calipari a week earlier. "I see a team play unbelievable in November and December ... I say they're too good too early," the UK coach said last week. "You're playing like it's March, and all you can do is come back."

In a sense, Kentucky March-ed all over Kansas, especially defensively. The Jayhawks shot 19.6 percent, the worst accuracy by a UK opponent in almost 19 years (Morehead State made only nine of 65 shots — 13.8 percent — on Dec. 16, 1995).

"They followed the game plan perfectly," said assistant John Robic, who substituted for Calipari at a news conference Thursday.

Noting that Kentucky had beaten Buffalo only two days earlier, Robic said of the Cats' play against Kansas, "They paid attention to detail in a quick turnaround time that's like an NCAA Tournament turnaround. So I was pleased with that."

When asked about the challenge the UK coaches face in keeping the Cats striving for improvement, Robic said, "We're not expecting to be perfect right now in November."

But didn't you just say the Cats followed the game plan "perfectly" against Kansas.

Semantics, Robic suggested.

"Perfect, perfectly, we don't expect to be at our peak right now," he said. "Obviously, we're happy where we are. We want to peak in February."

More immediately, Kentucky plays again Friday against visiting Boston University.

In the news conference after the Kansas game, Calipari didn't wait for a question before trying to shoot down the impression that Kentucky played superbly.

"No, we're not that good," he said after taking a seat. Among the needs for improvement he cited was more scoring opportunities for Aaron Harrison.

Harrison downplayed this needed improvement.

"He just said he wanted me to get more touches," the sophomore shooting guard said. "We won pretty handily, so I'm not really worried about it that much."

A few moments later, Harrison dismissed the notion that Kentucky must carefully handle the hosannas created by a 32-point victory over No. 5 Kansas on a neutral floor.

"Oh, we all know we have a long way to go," he said. "We didn't play well offensively. We offensively rebounded really well, but I think we can execute on the offensive end a lot better."

His brother, point guard Andrew Harrison, took it upon himself to keep Kentucky striving for improvement.

"That's on me, to be honest, to keep us humble," he said. "We haven't really done anything."

In the broad context of a season, that may be true. But Robic acknowledged how the victory over Kansas showed how well UK could handle a big-game atmosphere.

Most tellingly, UK shrugged off the final three minutes of the first half when Kansas reduced an 18-point deficit to 10. The UK lead increased to 16 barely three minutes into the second half, reached 20 before the 10-minute mark and steadily grew.

"Guys got grouped together at halftime," Robic said, "and really answered the challenge."

Communication was "really good," he added.

The camaraderie, especially on a team with so many good players, was extraordinary.

"It takes a special person when not on the floor to be actively involved," Robic said. "And they are every time."

But the word Thursday was that Kentucky can be better, that Kentucky must be better going forward.

"We can execute on the offensive end a lot better," Aaron Harrison said. "We can be more fluid in our half-court offense."

The Cats can start games better. UK didn't take the lead for good until the 16:19 mark of the first half.

Inflicting the most lopsided defeat in Bill Self's 12 seasons as Kansas coach hardly serves as Exhibit A in an argument that improvement must be made. But it'll have to do.

"The score was the score," Robic said. "(UK is) very happy with our defense. We made them take tough shots. ... We need to get better offensively, for sure.

"The message for these guys is just each and every day we have to get better at what we have to do as a team, whether it's defense or offense."

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