John Clay

John Calipari says he’s worried, and he might be telling the truth

John Calipari: We've got some things we've got to figure out

Even after a 96-73 win over Hofstra on Sunday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari says his team needs to play better.
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Even after a 96-73 win over Hofstra on Sunday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari says his team needs to play better.

The game was over. Kentucky had eased past Hofstra 96-73 at the Barclays Center. As the two coaches shook hands, Hofstra’s Joe Mihalich told John Calipari he wouldn’t be surprised to see Kentucky win it all come March.

“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to work out,” replied the Kentucky coach.

If there were nits to pick Sunday, Calipari was in the mood to pick them. Yeah, sure, his sixth-ranked Cats had improved to 9-1 with a 23-point win. They shot 51.4 percent from the floor. Over the final four minutes of the first half and the opening four minutes of the second, they outscored Hofstra 26-3 to take control.

Big deal. The easy path is over. Sharp curves up ahead. There’s North Carolina in Las Vegas on Saturday. There’s Louisville at the Yum Center four days later. Then there’s the SEC. Take a look at the schedule. Calipari knows. He knows something else.

“We’re not playing the way we need to play,” he said.

He also said this: “I’m worried”

Coach-speak, you say. Might this be the set-up for Camp Cal, that post-finals/Christmas break stretch when the 20-hour rule need not apply and the coach can all but lock his players into the Craft Center and force them do little else besides practice basketball, eat, sleep and practice more basketball?

“I’ll give them a little time for video (games) and the phone,” Cal said Sunday. “You don’t do that, they’re climbing the walls.”

And yet, before you think this is a case of Calipari playing mind games, know that the coach has a point. Actually, he has several points.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari talks about his team's three-point shooting after Sunday's win over Hofstra.

For starters, Kentucky was outrebounded 45-41 Sunday. Sure, in Rokas Gustys, Hofstra boasted the nation’s leading rebounder at 13.5 per game. Gustys grabbed eight boards Sunday and the Pride still outworked UK on the glass.

The Cats also committed 27 fouls. Hofstra shot 37 free throws. A pair of quick Pride guards, especially senior Deron Powers, had success slipping past Kentucky defenders to the basket to score or be fouled. Powers, a grad transfer who was on the Hampton team that played Kentucky in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, made nine of 11 free throws and scored 18 points.

Kentucky-Hofstra box score

Afterward, when Powers was asked to compare that Kentucky team with this Kentucky team, he sided with the 2015 version, the one that won 38 straight before losing in the Final Four. It had more depth, he said. (“More depth than these guys?” asked Mihalich.) And that 2015 team was taller, said Powers.

These Cats might be better offensively. When De’Aaron Fox is flying and Isaiah Briscoe is getting to the rim and Malik Monk is knocking down threes and Bam Adebayo is hitting those baby hooks around the basket, the Cats are going to score points.

Kentucky guards Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk talk about the team's 96-73 win over Hofstra.

“UCLA outscored us,” said Calipari, referring to the Bruins’ 97-92 win over the Cats at Rupp last week, as if you had forgotten that.

Plus, there will be a night, maybe two, when the offense isn’t there. The shots won’t fall. The fast break is slowed. Things just won’t go Kentucky’s way on that end of the floor.

The guys in here that know me, I like to have a team shoot 32 percent and still win the game. We won by six and couldn’t make a shot. Made one three. Made some free throws. Couldn’t make a basket and we still won. That’s when you know you have a good team.

Kentucky coach John Calipari

“The guys in here that know me, I like to have a team shoot 32 percent and still win the game,” he said. “We won by six and couldn’t make a shot. Made one three. Made some free throws. Couldn’t make a basket and we still won. That’s when you know you have a good team.”

You can bet that’s part of what worries the head coach. He knows he has a good team that is playing well enough to win easily over inferior opponents. Is it playing well enough, however, to beat the teams it really has to beat to make good on the Hofstra coach’s prediction?

You’d have to think Calipari believes no.

“He’s not a Hall of Fame coach for nothing,” Mihalich said. “He’ll get it all worked out.”

Hofstra Coach Joe Mihalich praised John Calipari and how hard Kentucky plays after losing to UK 96-73 in Brooklyn.

Next game

Kentucky vs. North Carolina

5:45 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas (CBS-27)

Kentucky men’s basketball 2016-17

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

11/11/16

Stephen F Austin

87

64

W

1-0

11/13/16

Canisus

93

69

W

2-0

11/15/16

vs Michigan State

69

48

W

3-0

11/20/16

Duquense

93

59

W

4-0

11/23/16

Cleveland State

101

70

W

5-0

11/25/16

UT-Martin

111

76

W

6-0

11/28/16

vsArizona St

115

69

W

7-0

12/3/16

UCLA

92

97

L

7-1

12/7/16

Valparaiso

87

63

W

8-1

12/11/16

v sHofstra

96

73

W

9-1

12/17/16

vs North Carolina

12/21/16

@Louisville

12/29/16

@Ole Miss

1/3/17

Texas A&M

1/7/17

Arkansas

1/10/17

@Vanderbilt

1/14/17

Auburn

1/17/17

@Miss St

1/21/17

S Carolina

1/24/17

@Tennessee

1/28/17

Kansas

1/31/17

Georgia

2/4/17

@Florida

2/7/17

LSU

2/11/17

@Alabama

2/14/17

Tennessee

2/18/17

@Georgia

2/21/17

@Missouri

2/25/17

Florida

2/28/17

Vanderbilt

3/4/17

@Texas A&M

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