Kentucky led by only two points. The game was five minutes into the second half. To borrow from UK Coach John Calipari's book of quotations, the opponent was shooting well enough to develop "beer muscles," thus dangerously intoxicated with can-do confidence.
That's when 7-footer Dakari Johnson chose to shoot a 15-footer against Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
"I kind of cringed," Calipari said Tuesday. "Like, 'Not now!'"
The shot represented a moment when Calipari's hope to keep UK players engaged by encouraging them to expand their offensive repertoire clashed with the victory-or-defeat reality of the game at hand. In other words, Johnson could have chosen a better time to experiment.
"I wish there was a different score and time," Calipari said. "But I let it go."
After all, Calipari was and is advising the UK players to add to their games. So, in a sense, Johnson was following orders. In saying earlier in the week that he wanted the players to expand their games, Calipari mentioned Johnson's desire to shoot more 12-footers. Johnson made five such shots in a recent practice, the UK coach said.
"I can't work with him on it (and at the same time) tell him not to do it," Calipari said.
But the UK coach acknowledged his uneasiness with the one example of Johnson's shot selection in the Ole Miss game.
"I did the same thing: 'Oh, please!'" he said. "When he shot it, it's 'Oh-my-gosh.'"
A teammate, perhaps Andrew Harrison or Tyler Ulis, told Johnson to shoot, Calipari said. "Because they're for each other (and) they know he was working on it."
Johnson's shot illustrated another potential dilemma: With Kentucky ranked No. 1 throughout the season so far and leading the nation with an average margin of victory by 25.7 points, is change necessary? The axiom it's not broke, don't fix it comes to mind.
After acknowledging the validity of that saying, Karl-Anthony Towns countered with "if a pencil is good enough to use, why not make it sharper?"
Calipari suggested that his attempt to keep the players engaged might have distracted Kentucky from its primary objective.
The UK coach second-guessed himself by saying, "Did they focus more on what we're trying to teach them individually and got away from the energy they need to play with.
"I'm going to talk about it today. But I'm telling them I'm counting on you bringing energy."
Calipari did not sound ready to abandon the idea of players expanding their game. He said the goal remained to seek individual improvement as a way to a better team.
When he introduced the idea of a platoon system this season, Calipari emphasized that Kentucky was not wedded to five-for-five substitutions. But he has sounded like somebody in a serious relationship.
Even when he veered from five-for-five substitutions earlier this season, Calipari insisted that the platoon system was still in effect. The Ole Miss game tested that resolve.
The Rebels fell behind 18-7 against the first platoon, then got back in the game when four substitutes joined Trey Lyles on the floor at the first television timeout.
"Should I have left them in longer?" Calipari said of the first platoon players. It was a question he asked of the players.
Calipari said his hands were tied.
"What am I going to do? Leave (a player in) 10 straight minutes?" he said. "He can't be in there that long."
A moment later, Calipari said, "I should have left those guys in longer."
Willis and Hawkins
Going into the eight-day break after the Louisville game, Calipari said Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis had a chance to prove they should be added to the rotation. Neither played against Ole Miss.
Calipari said he put the issue before the players.
"'Which of you want to give up some of your minutes?'" he said he asked. "None raised their hands, which means (Willis and Hawkins) have to take minutes. Which means they have to perform at a higher level."
The onus is on Willis and Hawkins, Calipari said.
"How can you ask guys playing 22, 21 and 19 minutes to give up three or four more (minutes) so we can get another guy minutes?" the UK coach said. "This is not Communism. You've got to earn it. The guys who earn the most minutes are going to play the most."