John Clay

Cats not as perfect as their record

This past week having been finals week, the Kentucky basketball team brought a distinctly academic demeanor into Saturday's win over Austin Peay.

There was Coach John Calipari saying he wasn't there to give out grades, then bragging on his student John Wall's impressive collection of A's and B's.

There was DeMarcus Cousins, quite the sartorial sight in his "Peter Parker swag," (his description), his Ushanka (look it up, the media had to) and his blunt description of his play.

"I was lazy," he said.

And there was the professor Calipari again explaining the psychology of a young, undefeated and, at times, clueless basketball team. One that, despite its 11-0 start, still has a lot to learn.

"I told them, 'You guys are getting arrogant,' " said the professor after his team beat the Governors 90-69. "There's a difference between arrogance and a swagger."

Class, get out your notebooks (or laptops), please.

"A swagger comes in when everyone knows that we're working harder than this other team," Calipari said. "You may make some baskets, and you may get us down, but we have a swagger because we're always going to defend, we're never going to give up a possession, we're gonna block, and we're gonna run, and we're all gonna do our jobs. You have a swagger."

And arrogance?

"Arrogance is, 'We're 11-0, and everybody says 'I'm the best' and 'Watch this,' " said Calipari, changing his voice to fit the quote. "And now, all of a sudden, the other team outworks you, they outhustle you, they beat you to balls, they play with more energy and, all of a sudden, you get beat."

Kentucky didn't get beat Saturday. The glory road to 2,000 wins is still on schedule. But the Cats didn't exactly partly like it's 1,999 either.

They put together spurts of excellence, but nothing really sustainable. Their focus was far less than 40 minutes.

"There were times where we didn't have a lot of intensity, especially on the defensive end," admitted sophomore Darius Miller. "I definitely don't think we played as good as we could have."

This could be expected, of course. This is a young team. And this is a young team that was facing an Ohio Valley Conference team after having beaten North Carolina, Connecticut and Indiana in a span of eight days.

"They're not machines," said Calipari.

This was also a young team that had just gone through a taxing week of final exams.

"I say that's an excuse," said Peter Parker, er, Cousins. "What really had me just, I guess you could say lazy, it was a pretty intense practice week this week, the conditioning. I'm still kind of wore out from that."

Thing is, other teams, they could care less about that. They don't care if you've been up all night studying for exams, or running sprints until you collapse, or focusing on something other than winning basketball. Especially if the opponent is Kentucky, the third-ranked team in the country.

Calipari knows that. He's been around the block a few times. He keeps bringing up the AAU, referring Friday and Saturday to how his team was still used to the three-minute warm-ups before AAU games. At the AAU level, it's all talent, all the time.

At this level, the elite level, it's teamwork. And Calipari's is a really good team. It's worth stating the obvious and saying this Kentucky team is at least one of the best four or five teams in the country. Maybe better. If Kansas is the best team, and Texas is No. 2, then the Cats aren't far behind.

But it is a team with plenty of lessons to learn. And just as they learned how to beat the marquee names, they have to learn to ignore the hype, fight back the arrogance, and beat the non-marquees, as well.

Said Calipari, "Every day we step onto that court, it's an experience for us to learn from."

Do you ever stop learning?

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