Kentucky looks to get tougher after Georgia loss
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky coach John Calipari's dribble-drive offense is predicated on aggression. Get the ball, attack the basket and either kick it out to an open teammate or finish at the rim.
Praying for the ref to blow the whistle isn't in Calipari's playbook.
So he was more than a little frustrated when his Wildcats were looking for calls more than finishing the play after being bumped getting into the lane Saturday in a 77-70 loss to Georgia.
The Wildcats appeared poised to take control after getting its first lead on a conventional 3-point play by Terrence Jones with 10 minutes to go. Instead, Kentucky wilted while Georgia surged, missing 11 of its next 12 shots.
"They got physical and we didn't play through bumps, we were just throwing it at the rim," Calipari said.
Kentucky was just as wobbly at the other end of the floor. The Bulldogs bullied the younger, smaller Wildcats in the lane, getting layups or a trip to the free-throw line.
"We're not tough enough yet," Calipari said.
Maybe, but the 13th-ranked Wildcats (12-3, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) probably won't have to be on Tuesday when they host Auburn (7-8, 0-1). The Tigers are coming off a 62-55 loss to LSU on Saturday, a game in which Auburn scored all of six points in the first half.
Calipari hasn't watched any of that game tape, and not just out of respect to Auburn coach Tony Barbee, who played for Calipari at Massachusetts then later served on his staff at both UMass and Memphis.
Scouting the opposition isn't something that's high on Calipari's to-do list. He'd rather focus on his team. Right now, that includes trying to get his players to stop worrying about themselves and start worrying about each other.
He believes some Wildcats have grown complacent, perhaps a little too comfortable in their role. Kentucky has a seven-player rotation that he hasn't deviated much over the last month. Maybe it's time to start shaking things up.
"Our guys need to be more committed, they can't be content like everything is OK because they're getting their shots," he said. "If I had more guys, there's some guys here that wouldn't be getting as many minutes. ... We've got guys here that should be as good as any guys in the league and they're not playing that way."
Junior swingman Darius Miller went just 2 of 11 from the field against the Bulldogs. He had little trouble getting into the lane, yet when he got there he would fade away from the basket or stop and pump fake instead of trying to force the defense to make a play.
It's a problem Miller has been dealing with for the better part of three seasons. He spent his first two years being a role player off the bench. Now one of the few veterans on the team, Calipari is anxious for Miller to start playing like it.
Miller is trying. He arrived at practice early on Monday and took turns doing sprints on a treadmill with senior center Josh Harrellson.
"You have to change your mindset," Miller said. "When coach says to go, we've got to go."
Miller refuses to believe the Wildcats backed down when the Bulldogs started forcing the issue. Teammate DeAndre Liggins allows Kentucky became tentative and "nervous," a major reason why the Wildcats have matched last year's entire loss total less than halfway through the season.
"We've got to be committed, hungry and humble," Liggins said.
True, if Kentucky wants to repeat as SEC champions. What Georgia did on Saturday looked a lot like what Connecticut did to Kentucky when the Huskies rolled over the Wildcats in Maui in November.
Calipari is confident his players will learn to be the bullies instead of the bullied, but they'll have to do it without center Enes Kanter. The 6-foot-11 freshman was ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA for a second time last week for accepting above the necessary expenses while playing for a Turkish club team two years ago.
Kentucky could certainly use Kanter's size and toughness, and Miller said the Wildcats were "mad" when the school's second appeal was denied.
Calipari reiterated Monday that Kanter will stay in school for the spring semester before submitting his name in the NBA draft, a decision Calipari said the NCAA ruling forced Kanter to make. Kanter will be able to practice and travel with the team.
His presence will make the Wildcats better in practice. The Wildcats know it's up to them to make sure that translates to games.
"We've got to try to win it for him," Miller said.