By LARRY VAUGHT
After Kentucky lost to UCLA, senior forward Derek Willis said he felt the team was a little complacent after winning its first eight games so easily.
“We came into the game beating every team by 21 points or more, and a lot of us, as freshmen it’s our first time in the league. It’s hard to judge that and get a good feel on that. So, playing a game like this really helped us,” said freshman forward Wenyen Gabriel Tuesday when asked about Willis’ belief.
“Wining is expected here and it’s part of the culture. When you lose, especially at Rupp, it’s just something – it’s devastating when you realize the (42-game home) winning streak you just lost. It affects you a little bit when you think back on it.”
Kentucky hosts Valparaiso Wednesday night and Gabriel says the Cats have moved past the loss. Kentucky coach John Calipari said he had a 24-hour grieving period and then moves on and expects his players to do the same.
“I think it’s been good for us. Coach Cal said we needed to be in a close game. I think we would be better off if we had won the close game, but we’re learning from that and moving on. Valpo is a good team and we’re working toward that,” Gabriel said.
“For a lot of the players we’re ready to move on. We have a game coming up on Wednesday. We got UNC coming up soon. We got some big games. It’s a long season ahead of us. We’re still freshmen. We have a lot to look forward to.”
Sophomore Isaac Humphries said Calipari has had the “same loudness” with the team after the loss as he did before.
“We’ve been getting back at it, like more aggressive and stuff like that. Going back to drill work. Just trying to get back to our basics and really focusing in on what we need to do,” Humphries said. “We just take it as another game and move on. We spend 24 hours on that loss and then we move on.”
Gabriel said the defensive intensity in practice has picked up since the loss. He admitted he had a few defensive lapses and he knows he has to change that against Valpo and star Alec Peters.
Humphries says the Cats “now know what we are when we lose” and have to not repeat the same mistakes.
“We’re going to bounce back. We’ll be fine. We went through it. We know exactly what we did wrong. We know exactly how to fix it. We’ve been working really hard yesterday and today we’ll work hard again. So I think tomorrow we’ll be fine,” Humphries said.