After Kentucky beat Duke on Tuesday night, it was hard to tell the winners from the losers in the postgame news conferences.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari repeatedly cited areas where his team needed to improve. He seemed more eager to embrace Christian Laettner than a victory that surely put Final Four thoughts in the minds of UK fans.
Meanwhile, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski bantered playfully with reporters. He even scoffed at the notion that he had a coaching “philosophy” and joked about his basketball “dissertation.”
One guess at why Calipari sounded dissatisfied and Krzyzewski, well, philosophical: the date.
Both seemed to be saying the fifth day of the season was no time to over-react, draw conclusions, lament nor rejoice.
Even with blue bloods like Kentucky and Duke involved, Calipari labeled the game as “two young teams trying to figure each other out.”
This is one game. If we lose to Wright State (on Friday), you people will think I should be fired. You’re really happy with me. ‘He’s the best.’ ‘He’s unbelievable.’
John Calipari after Tuesday’s win over Duke
Calipari found plenty of areas to address in upcoming practices. For instance:
▪ UK’s guards, the heroes of the game, did not provide enough help when Duke worked the offensive board early. “Our guards were not going in there and cracking down and really taking that guy out,” he said.
▪ UK did not get enough “50/50 balls,” the term Calipari uses for loose balls. “We just got those balls jerked from us.”
▪ Jamal Murray, who scored 16 points and led UK with four steals, “settled (for jump shots) a couple times when he didn’t have to. Settled for more difficult shots than he needed to. But he’s learning.”
▪ Isaiah Briscoe led the defensive effort that hounded Duke’s leading scorer, Grayson Allen, to 2-for-11 shooting. But, Calipari said, Briscoe once left Allen open in the corner.
▪ Alex Poythress showed his athleticism by hitting a tooth on the rim. “You hit your tooth on the rim?!” Calipari said. “Why don’t you do that all the time?”
▪ Skal Labissiere can play better. On this one, Calipari offered a telling qualifier. “I’m hard on him,” the UK coach said. “But I’m allowed to be. You guys are not allowed to be.”
Calipari threw a few verbal bouquets. Marcus Lee (10 points, 10 rebounds) was great. Isaac Humphries showed he could give UK a fourth big man.
But, overall, Calipari tempered his enthusiasm. When asked why, he said, “This is one game. If we lose to Wright State (on Friday), you people will think I should be fired. You’re really happy with me. ‘He’s the best.’ ‘He’s unbelievable.’
Kentucky players were more upbeat. Tyler Ulis welcomed Duke’s willingness to run with the Cats. “We’re going to be trouble in a fast-paced game,” he said.
Krzyzewski also saw need for improvement. The Blue Devils need to settle on a point guard, he said. The backcourt must play better, especially against top competition.
Though blessed with seven McDonald’s All-Americans, Duke had four freshmen among the eight players who got in the game (UK had five among its nine participants). Other players, Allen in particular, are being asked to adjust to enhanced roles.
“When you’re put in a position where you’re the man, and you have to do it, it’s different,” Krzyzewski said. “So you have to do that, and, hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.”
It seemed Calipari and Krzyzewski put the game in the context of players learning and adjusting to a new team dynamic.
“In some respects, the game was a little bit bigger for our guys than they anticipated,” Krzyzewski said. “We weren’t who we should be tonight from the start. I don’t feel our team was here tonight like it needed to be.”
Echoing comments Calipari made in the preseason, Krzyzewski said he had to decide how Duke can best play and maximize its potential. He reminded reporters that the Blue Devils’ history suggests an ability to make such decisions.
“Most years it’s pretty good,” Krzyzewski said of this process. “Some years you win a national championship. We’re a ways from doing that with our group right now. But we can be a really good team. We have a lot of improvement ahead of us, and we just have to accept that and go on and do it.”
With that, Krzyzewski could not resist a light-hearted exit line:
“Is that a decent philosophy?”
Wright State at Kentucky
8 p.m. (SEC Network)