By LARRY VAUGHT
Think back to 2011 and 2014 and remember the struggles Kentucky had during the regular season before somehow regrouping and making the Final Four. Neither team won the national title, but both got extremely close.
Could it happen this year? Kentucky fans hope so. Even the UK coaching staff is telling current players about the 2011 and 2014 history lessons.
“Cal has done a great job of explaining historically what teams have been similar coming down the stretch, losing three of four, and then they clicked. Having adversity and then all of a sudden you figure it out and you go out and you fight for 40 minutes,” assistant coach Kenny Payne said Tuesday.
“You change the landscape of where the program is and where you are as a player and where we are as a team. This team is capable. This team is more than capable even though they’re young.
“We’re not using youth as an excuse; we just need them to fight, to not give up four, five-minute stretches of lackluster basketball. If you can do that, you give us a winning chance.”
Payne said the coaches are trying to get the players to believe they can put together a big finish but they are also trying to make players understand that they have to be accountable for how they play.
“You have to make sure that you love them, that you – I hate to say the word but – hit them in the face but hit them with reality. That means challenge them, get after their butts. When you are not playing hard, when you’re tired, that’s not acceptable, and we are going to get after you for that,” Payne said.
“For you to miss free throws when we shoot hundreds of free throws every day, that’s not acceptable. That means there is mental block that is allowing to not believe you are going to make this free throw and you’re missing. Why? We are going to challenge you on that.
“We are going to challenge you as a freshman to think like a senior. We are going to challenge you as a college player to think as a professional player. That’s what we do here.”