By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman center Nick Richards thinks too much is being made of Kentucky’s lack of toughness because of its loss at Tennessee where the Vols dominated the second half.
Assistant coach Joel Justus said Monday that the Vols turned the game into a street fight at halftime and UK faltered against the physical p lay.
“Together, as a team, I can say we’re pretty tough. In the last game, we got out-toughed by Tennessee in the second half. It’s just a learning process. We gotta move past it, hopefully learn from it and get better for the next game,” Richards said Monday.
Tonight Kentucky hosts Texas A&M , one of the SEC’s more physical teams with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams.
“We can go over the scouting report, we can go over film, but just a mindset of competing against other bigs and competing against other players. I’m really excited for the game,” Richards said. “We have to play with a sense of desperation in order to win a national championship. That’s how I look at it. I think we just got out-toughed by Tennessee in that one game. I don’t think our toughness is something to be questioned about.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari feels just a bit differently. He says A&M plays a physical game and certainly will after what happened to UK at Tennessee.
“They’re going to try to jam it over the top, they’re going to try to seal you, similar to what happened after PJ came out of the game (when) Tennessee just threw us around,” Calipari said.
The UK coach spent Sunday and Monday trying to emphasize the value of fighting because that’s what players who have long NBA careers do.
“Fighting doesn’t mean fist fighting. It means fight for position. It means being tough and knowing, I’m not fading away. I’m either getting fouled or making a basket here. It means I’m moving my feet to offensive rebound. I’m not pushing in the back. It means the shot goes up, I’m not afraid of contact, I’m going to create the contact. That’s the fight,” Calipari said.
“I’m playing before my man catches the ball. I’m alert on the weakside because I’m tough and I’m not thinking about my missed shots, I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about what’s my job. That is all a mentality of toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness, and when you got a bunch of young guys it’s the last piece of this. It’s not skills. It becomes, will you battle?”
P.J. Washington is the one player who seems to be learning that based on how he played at LSU and then again at Tennessee before going out with leg cramps from maybe going too hard — something Calipari wishes more players would do.
“We need to just be more tough and just continue to do what we’ve been doing in the past and just try to focus on our next game,” Washington said. “Once they (future opponents) see that second half of the Tennessee game, I feel like every opponent’s going to try to do that now. We just have to be focused on just boxing out and getting rebounds and just being aggressive on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes.”