Kentucky’s 84-63 victory over South Florida on Friday continued a familiar pattern. UK’s freshmen get pushed around by older, stronger opponents. John Calipari sees more of the same in his team’s future and frets about his players responding to physical play.
“I was frustrated with a bunch of the guys,” Calipari said after UK beat South Florida. “It became a little bit physical in there. And you can’t run from that. You got to relish that. And that’s where we are right now.
“And everybody knows that’s where we are. … When the game gets real physical, either you get lower and fight back or you run.”
Calipari said UK players did not relish the physical play.
“There was a lot of … just kind of avoiding what they were going to throw at us,” he said.
South Florida Coach Orlando Antigua had three big bodies to throw at UK: Jaleel Cousins, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound younger brother of former Cat DeMarcus Cousins; Chris Perry (6-8, 250) and Ruben Guerrero (6-11, 235).
Those players “in the second half were able to play a little bit and able to use their size,” Antigua said.
UK’s primary big men are more long and lean: Freshman Skal Labissiere (6-11, 225) and Marcus Lee (6-9, 224). Calipari spoke of future opponents trying to push UK around.
“I mean, if you’re watching tape, that’s what they’re going to do …,” the UK coach said. “I thought some of our front-line guys just were, like, either didn’t want to mix it up or weren’t ready for this game.”
Of course, the new rules are supposed to reduce physical play. Calipari reminded reporters that the referees got away from calling fouls two years ago when there was a similar intention to reduce physical play.
“I just hope we all have the stomach to do this, because it’s better for the game,” Calipari said, meaning continue to call fouls. “It’s a better way of playing the game. It’s a better way for our fans to watch the game.
“So I believe they will. I think they’re committed to it.”
More than once, freshman Isaiah Briscoe drove toward the basket and threw up a whirling shot that seemingly had little chance of going in the basket.
“He’s flipping balls like you’re in a H-O-R-S-E game,” Calipari said. “He had like four flips. Like, he was trying to spin them off the high corner to see if he could knock it in. Like we’re playing Skee Ball.”
Calipari seemed to suggest that Briscoe’s contortions were, in part, an attempt to avoid getting fouled and having to shoot free throws. He missed his only free throw, which lowered his accuracy this season to five of 16.
“Maybe that’s why my man’s playing Skee Ball on layups,” Calipari said. “I mean, I don’t know. But what you want is your best foul shooters to get fouled. You other dudes, if you can’t make free throws, don’t get fouled. Or lay it in quick before they get to you.”
Calipari called the game “a great learning experience” for Briscoe.
Hawkins looks good
The injury that limited Tyler Ulis to a career-low 14 minutes created an opportunity for Dominique Hawkins.
“I like what I saw from Dom today,” Calipari said. “Dom may be that rotational guy. It wasn’t the (three-point) shot. It was the defensive play where they charged. He’s flying up and down the court. I like what I saw from him.”
Feel the love
Of course, the game had the undercurrent of a reunion. South Florida Coach Orlando Antigua was an assistant for Calipari at Memphis and Kentucky.
Antigua noted how the sentimental stuff gets set aside when the competition begins.
“In the pre-game stuff, when you’re away from the competitive energy of things, you just feel those are guys you were able to create a lot of great memories with, and got some great friendships with.
“Now, the ball goes up and it’s now just competing, playing basketball like you would as a kid on the court.”
Working the refs
During much of the first half, Calipari kept a steady stream of “advice” for the referees. He encouraged them to call South Florida guards for pushing off UK defenders.
When South Florida forward Angel Nunez’s foot slipped, causing him to fall awkwardly and lose control of the ball, the referees stopped play.
With a UK fast-break nullified, Calipari asked a referee, “Are you making (Nunez) come out?”
Then he noted that the whistle had prevented an easy UK basket in transition.
As Nunez, South Florida and referees dawdled in front of the Bulls’ bench, Calipari’s impatience boiled over. “Get him out!!!” he screamed.
That resulted in a bench warning.