Freshman Skal Labissiere’s wild ride from projected first pick in this year’s NBA Draft to substitute off the Kentucky bench needs explaining.
UK Coach John Calipari provided it Friday.
When asked if he sought to take the pressure off Labissiere by bringing him off the bench against Louisville last weekend, Calipari quipped, “I’m not that smart.”
The Cal-culation involves helping not only Labissiere but the Kentucky team.
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Labissiere’s unproductive play contributed to UK’s tendency to start games slowly, Calipari said. So starting a front-court tandem of Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress gave the Cats a better chance to get off to a better start.
As for Labissiere, coming off the bench might provide greater incentive to battle opponents intent on being physical.
“Now, fight for your spot,” Calipari said of the message to Labissiere.
Labissiere, who has scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds in UK’s last three games, has been more active in practices, Calipari said. Finishing plays. Rebounding. Fighting. Going after so-called 50/50 balls.
“He’s fine,” the UK coach said. “He’s gotten better. Now, he has to do it in a game.”
Calipari said he did not make a dramatic announcement about removing Labissiere from the starting lineup.
“I just said that’s how it is, right now,” he said.
Calipari said he advised Labissiere to live day by day rather than dwell on long-range goals.
“Stay in the moment . . . ,” Calipari said. “You can’t put on yourself, ‘Well, I have to be a pro in four months.’ It may not be possible. It may take you two years.”
While mimicking an alarmed response to that timetable by blurting out “ooooh,” Calipari said, “There’s no crying on the yacht.”
Wynyard a ‘moose’
Calipari seemed to suggest that freshman newcomer Tai Wynyard can be a physical player.
“He’s a bull,” the UK coach said. “He’s a moose.”
Wynyard also is skilled, as shown by a soft shooting touch around the basket and at the free-throw line, Calipari said.
Of course, Wynyard, a native of New Zealand, only joined the UK team two weeks ago. The Christmas break further limited his practice time. He has not played in a game, and Calipari made future playing time contingent on how other UK “bigs” perform.
“It’s, like, what happens with Skal (and) Isaac (Humphries),” Calipari said.
Similarly, Mychal Mulder is in that position behind Dominique Hawkins.
“If Skal doesn’t perform, they (Humphries and Wynyard) are going to get a chance,” Calipari said.
Derek Willis had only a vague recollection of how Stefan Moody nearly shot Ole Miss to a victory at Kentucky last season.
“I just remember that little kid going off,” he said of Moody, who is listed at 5-10. “Crazy threes. I think he cramped up. We won, though, right?”
Yes, UK won 89-86 in overtime. Moody scored 25 points. But cramps forced him to leave the game after he was fouled on a three-point attempt with 4:09 left in overtime and the score tied at 79-79.
“Overtime? We went into overtime with them?” Willis said. “Oh my gosh. I don’t remember that, either. That one kid, he did his thing. (Kentucky) probably didn’t deserve to win, honestly. But we won.”
Of course, quite a bit happened during UK’s 2014-15 season, so a faulty memory of an early January SEC game is understandable.
Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said his team needs to be more efficient on offense. He singled out three-point accuracy (31.1 percent) in particular.
“Not a formula that will stand for us to have a chance in league play,” he said.
Ole Miss also charts what Kennedy called “open looks.” These are shots created when plays work according to design. The Rebels are making only about 40 percent of those shots, he said.
“Those are the ones we want to get,” Kennedy said. “So those numbers have to improve from an efficiency standpoint if we’re going to be as good as we want to be.”
Not just Moody
Moody may be the SEC’s most entertaining player. But he’s not a one-man team.
Junior forward Sebastian Saiz, a native of Madrid, Spain, is averaging a double-double (11.7 points and 10.2 rebounds). That’s up from 8.1 points and 5.8 rebounds last season.
Tomasz Gielo, who follows Marshall Henderson and Moody as transfers who have been productive players for Ole Miss, is coming off a career-high 23-point performance against Troy. He is a native of Poland, and is graduate transfer from Liberty U. . . . Matt Stewart, UK Unforgettable John Pelphrey and sideline reporter Jill Montgomery will call the game for the SEC Network.