By LARRY VAUGHT
Winning a close game is what Kentucky coach John Calipari likes for his team to be able to do, especially when it comes on the road at Vanderbilt like Tuesday’s win did. Kentucky also made just one 3-pointer in the game.
“The only issue was I had to make calls every time down the floor for us to get us the kind of shot we needed. That means they’re not empowered yet,” Calipari said. “Like, I had to come out of a timeout – when your team is empowered they can do it themselves.
“They know where to go with the ball, they know what kind of shot to take, who’s getting the ball. We’re not empowered yet. This team, that’s all part of the discipline, the focus and then the trust.
“Right now we still don’t trust each other because guys aren’t doing their job defensively, what they’re supposed to do. We ran gaps, we didn’t switch when we needed to, we didn’t talk. So now, that lack of trust makes you a little timid. But that aside, at some point this year if this team is supposed to be what everybody thinks then we better be empowered. It better be their team.”
That’s when WLEX-TV sports director Alan Cutler reminded Calipari that he had never had a team at Kentucky he felt was empowered by early January. The coach admitted Cutler was right, too.
“Last year I had to get thrown out of South Carolina, which I did on purpose so that I could see if they were empowered,” Calipari joked. “You know what I just said to them: I said, what I’m asking of you is probably not fair. And I looked at them and I said, ‘But you’re at Kentucky. That’s not fair.’ So, we just gotta do it.
“They all know. They know. This stuff’s not easy. How about every game they play is like this? This kind of environment. This kind of effort. Every game. If we come in and don’t give a great effort we have no chance of winning. That’s unusual. And yes, freshmen coming out doing it.
“There are like three or four guys that have got to step up their play so we can get ‘em out on the floor and let them help us and have more of a rotation. The only thing that happened thing game is because some of those kids didn’t play in the first half that much, the minutes don’t look crazy except Isaiah’s.
“But I played two guys with two fouls. Believe me: If I’ve coached a thousand games, I’ve done that a handful of times. Normally I would not—you’re out. But I did not like the feel of the game. I didn’t like their energy. I didn’t like—I just said, ‘We gotta make sure we’re in this.’ And we went into the half up five, which was pretty good.”