UK Men's Basketball

Calipari declares back-to-the-drawing-board time for Kentucky

Kentucky head coach John Calipari gathered his team during a time out in the first half of the Kentucky at LSU basketball game at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rogue, La.,, on Jan. 5, 2016.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari gathered his team during a time out in the first half of the Kentucky at LSU basketball game at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rogue, La.,, on Jan. 5, 2016. palcala@herald-leader.com

In the first half against LSU on Tuesday, Kentucky had only six points in the paint. That caused John Calipari to draw a line of demarcation.

In the second half, he declared to the players, “We’re throwing it into the post. We don’t care what happens.”

Not much happened as LSU continued to control the paint and the game. Kentucky’s “bigs” came up small, scoring seven second-half points.

“Obviously, that didn’t work,” Calipari said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and figure it out.”

The 85-67 defeat reinforced what Calipari had been saying repeatedly this season: The Cats must be tenacious and unrelenting. Ideally, that’s all the Cats all the time.

“We can’t afford to have two or three guys not play well,” Calipari said after the game. “Like give you doughnuts. We’re not that good.”

Doughnut was a fitting term. Against LSU, Kentucky was a doughnut aka a team without a center. The lack of a post-up game — on offense and defense — handicapped the Cats.

Marcus Lee didn’t score and grabbed two rebounds. Alex Poythress had four points and four rebounds. Skal Labissiere had three points and two rebounds.

The six UK players taller than 6-foot-4 combined for 13 points and 12 rebounds, or about half of what Ben Simmons and Craig Victor alone gave LSU: 29 points and 22 rebounds.

We took, like, 10 steps back in this game. Coming out flat and not ready to play.

Tyler Ulis

The final tally was not pretty. LSU outscored Kentucky 44-24 in the paint and outrebounded the Cats 46-32. The latter was UK’s worst beating on the boards since Dec. 6, 2013 (Baylor 41-25), and worst in a Southeastern Conference game since Feb. 16, 2013 (Tennessee 39-21 in the first game after Nerlens Noel’s torn anterior cruciate ligament shellshocked the Cats).

Of LSU’s advantage inside, Simmons said, “It was huge. It showed when they were struggling early trying to get to the rim.”

Victor said LSU went into the game intending to be physical, an increasingly familiar tactic of opponents. “That was the main thing,” he said.

For Kentucky fans, this is all too familiar. It will be interesting to see what answers Calipari can find on that drawing board. It’s no secret that the UK coach wants more competitive fire. It was difficult to see any progress in the LSU game.

“We weren’t very good in this game,” Calipari acknowledged. “That’s the great thing about college basketball. You’re trying to get better every week. You take a step back, you learn and figure out what we’ve got to do to get better.”

According to Tyler Ulis, Calipari was being kind to say the loss to LSU was a step back.

“We took, like, 10 steps back in this game,” the UK point guard said. “Coming out flat and not ready to play.”

The players used words like “weak” and “scared” to describe the beating. LSU took the lead for good with 17:15 left in the first half. It didn’t matter that Simmons, who has been the talk of college basketball this season, played a season-low 27 minutes.

Jamal Murray repeatedly talked about Kentucky’s need to match the opposition’s zeal.

“I think we just play really weak,” he said. “The other team is fired up. That’s our fault. Not Coach’s fault anymore.”

Murray acknowledged his frustration. He stressed how the UK players must change what happens before games.

“I feel we need to do a better job getting the team organized and prepared for a game like this,” he said. “When the other team is so fired up and excited to play us.”

LSU’s third-largest crowd (13,573) since the Pete Maravich Assembly Center’s renovation in 2006 only stoked Tuesday’s fire.

Ulis offered a blunt assessment.

“I feel we came out, I know don’t what it was, a little scared, it seemed,” he said.

If Kentucky needed an example of overcoming demoralizing defeat, it was available at the other end of the court. Only a week earlier, LSU was a team looking for answers.

After a loss at Houston on Dec. 13, LSU officials counted 30 stories on the Internet linking the Tigers to the NIT. CBSSports.com declared LSU on the bubble for the NIT.

In the last four days, LSU won at Vanderbilt and then beat No. 9 Kentucky.

“The losses we took early in the season helped us as a team,” guard Tim Quarterman said. “Helped us get together. It humbled us.”

LSU got a big boost when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor II began playing. Hornsby, the Tigers’ leading returning scorer, missed the first seven games of this season because of a surgery to repair a sports hernia. Victor, a transfer from Arizona, missed the first eight games. He posted a double-double against UK (15 points, 12 rebounds).

Kentucky’s version of such an infusion of new talent is freshman Tai Wynyard, who joined the team less than three weeks ago. “He gives us some girth and some toughness . . . ,” Murray said. “He has to learn all the plays and sets, and he’ll be fine.”

Even with the addition of Hornsby and Victor, Simmons found LSU’s turnaround difficult to explain. A team found lacking in the fundamental building blocks of winning basketball (defense and rebounding) reinvents itself. “It’s confusing, huh?” Simmons said.

A meeting before SEC play began may have made a difference.

Coach Johnny Jones gave credit to his players. “These guys are trying to get better,” he said. “That’s a huge part of it.”

The losses fueled this desire, Simmons said. “Everybody was kind of sick of what was happening,” he said. “We really just laid it out. Put our goals out. Everybody contributed to that.”

Murray sounded sick of what happened to Kentucky, which has a 4-3 record since the start of December.

“It was just frustrating,” he said of the loss at LSU. “Knowing we’re so much better. There’s a couple key plays, a couple of moments in the game we can take advantage of. And we just don’t.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

LSU 85, No. 9 KENTUCKY 67

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Lee

5

0-2

0-0

2

0

5

0

Ulis

40

7-16

7-8

1

6

1

23

Briscoe

30

2-6

1-7

6

0

4

5

Poythress

26

2-3

0-3

4

0

5

4

Murray

36

9-17

1-1

2

1

2

21

Labissiere

16

1-3

1-2

2

0

2

3

Matthews

7

0-0

0-0

1

1

1

0

Mulder

14

1-4

2-2

8

0

0

5

Humphries

7

0-2

0-0

1

0

3

0

Willis

19

2-5

0-0

3

0

2

6

Totals

200

24-58

12-23

32

8

25

67

Percentages: FG .414, FT .522. 3-Point Goals: 7-20, .350 (Willis 2-4, Murray 2-5, Ulis 2-6, Mulder 1-2, Poythress 0-1, Briscoe 0-2). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 1 (Briscoe). Turnovers: 14 (Poythress 3, Briscoe 3, Ulis 2, Murray 2, Lee 2, Labissiere, Matthews). Steals: 3 (Willis, Murray, Briscoe). Technical Fouls: None.

LSU

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

PF

PT

Blakeney

23

3-9

0-0

0

1

2

6

Hornsby

28

3-6

1-2

4

2

2

9

Simmons

27

5-5

4-6

10

3

2

14

Victor II

36

3-11

9-14

12

1

4

15

Quarterman

31

9-15

1-2

10

7

1

21

Sampson

6

0-0

0-0

1

0

0

0

Robinson III

5

0-1

0-0

0

0

2

0

Gray

9

1-4

2-2

0

2

1

4

Patterson

23

2-5

2-4

3

1

0

6

Bridgewater

1

1-1

0-0

1

0

0

2

Epps

9

3-4

0-0

1

0

2

8

Malone

2

0-0

0-0

1

0

0

0

Totals

200

30-61

19-30

46

17

16

85

Percentages: FG .492, FT .633. 3-Point Goals: 6-14, .429 (Epps 2-2, Hornsby 2-3, Quarterman 2-4, Patterson 0-1, Victor II 0-1, Blakeney 0-3). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Hornsby, Simmons, Victor II, Quarterman). Turnovers: 9 (Hornsby 2, Gray 2, Simmons 2, Blakeney, Victor II). Steals: 8 (Simmons 2, Hornsby 2, Epps, Patterson, Gray, Victor II). Technical Fouls: Bench.

Kentucky

27

40

67

LSU

37

48

85

A—13,573. Officials—Doug Shows, Pat Adams, Joe DeRosa.

Saturday

Kentucky at Alabama

6 p.m. (SEC Network)

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments