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By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Ryan Harrow says he doesn’t even think about Kentucky not making the NCAA Tournament and is not about to start thinking about it. Well, maybe he better because after UK’s 83-71 loss here Saturday to underdog Texas A&M, coach John Calipari at least hinted that the Wildcats better understand making the NCAA Tournament one year after the Cats won the national championship is not a given.

Calipari stressed that UK lacked the “will to win” because it didn’t have the discipline required to make defensive stops after taking a 62-58 lead with 5 minutes, 51 seconds to play after Nerlens Noel created two straight turnovers that the Cats turned into points to take the lead. But Texas A&M made its last 10 shots — UK made only two of its last 10 — to stun the Cats.

“I am just hope we are winning enough games as we learn how to do this,” said Calipari.

Who would have ever thought that when the season opened? Kentucky had the No. 1 recruiting class and was ranked in the preseason top five (a spot Calipari warned was way too high). Growing pains were expected, but not that UK would be 10-5 and have only one quality win against Maryland.

Could Kentucky miss the NCAA? Absolutely, and Calipari knows it even if his players don’t.
“I think we will be fine, but no, you have got to win games. For us going forward, each game we play we just have got to worry about being the best team in the gym. We don’t need to worry about anybody else.  Just be the best team in the gym and do what we are suppowed to be doing,” Calipari said. “As a coach, this one is done. We have another game Tuesday (against Tennessee).

“I think we showed fight. I think we showed fire. We are getting tougher. We shot 77 percent from the free throw line. But a lot of good is taken away with four minutes to go when we take chances on defense, start fouling and on offense you’re trying to make too hard a play. That takes away all of your effort for 30-some minutes.”

The game’s best player was Texas A&M’s Elston Turner. The guard came into the game averaging 15.5 points per game. He had 25 in the first half and finished with 40 in 37 minutes of flawless play. He hit shots that UK couldn’t defend as he was 14-for-19 from the field.

But here’s the disturbing part.

“He shot the ball well and he got good looks,” winning coach Billy Kennedy said. “He got opportunities to score. Kentucky is young and you can see it and fortunately we were able to take advantage.”

Did they ever as Turner just kept shooting and scoring.

Calipari opened the game with Alex Poythress guarding him, a move Calipari said his staff talked him into making and was a mistake.

“I didn’t want to do it and it was my decision,” Calipari said. “It was a mistake. Because from that point on, he was getting 50 (points). Stupid on my part to do that.

“He’s not ready to guard a kid like that. He’s just not. Doesn’t have the intensity. You’ve got to have an unbelievable fight in you to guard a guy like that to have pride that you’re not going to do this to me. And he may have done it any way to be honest. It may not have mattered who guarded him. But when you start that way, making every shot … now you’re feeling pretty good.”
It was better than good. Texas A&M players danced off the court like youngsters getting from opening presents from Santa Claus on Christmas Day.

Still, as good as Turner was — he called it “by far the best performance I’ve ever had” — the Cats overcame a 40-31 deficit early in the second half to take the 62-58 lead. That’s when two huge weaknesses on this team became obvious.

First, UK does not have a shutdown defender, especially late in the game, like it had with DeAndre Liggins two years ago or Michael Kidd-Gilchirst last year. Second, UK does not have a go-to scorer like John Wall, Brandon Knight or one of several players last year in clutch situations. That’s a fatal combination in close games.

Texas A&M went on a 16-1 run after UK took the 62-58 lead. Maryland, Duke, Morehead and Vanderbilt have had similar big runs — something that never happened last season.

“When teams go on runs, there’s a difference between a veteran team going on a run as opposed to a younger team going on runs,” Turner said.

Translation: A veteran team knows it must stop the run quickly with smart decisions and execution.

Calipari said he talked to his team Friday about “gut time, stop the run, stop the bleeding.” It apparently was a message not heard very well.

“They were listening to what I was saying, but I don’t think they heard me,” Calipari said.

They better start hearing. Texas A&M is not Duke. It’s not Louisville. The Aggies lost 70-49 to St. Louis. They lost 53-51 to Southern. They have eight scholarship players and used a walk-on (Jarod Johns) for 30 minutes Saturday.

Calipari said there’s only one thing for his players to do if they want to become better.

“Accept what you did,” Calipari said.

He said if the players do that and then come together, he still “likes my team” and what it can do.

“What happens as our team doesn’t do well, each individual players starts, like you start questioning each guy,” the coach said. “That’s what happens. Fans, media and everybody else. And that’s why thy need to come together, to stay together, to keep working through it.”

He’s right about the questions. There’s a slew of them about this team.

And maybe, just maybe, way too much was expected of this team.

“I don’t think so. Or at least I don’t want to believe that,” Harrow said.

29 Responses to Calipari hints that players better start worrying about winning enough to make NCAA

  • Hats off to Turner…aside from a loss, my disappointment is with the Rupp Arena Wildcat Fans (don’t kill the messenger)… At 51 to 51, Texas AM comes down on offense, ” Our Fans Were Asleep “… Tied 53 to 53, Texas AM comes down on offense, Again, No Chant of,” DEFENSE, DEFENSE ” or ” Go Big Blue, GO BIG BLUE “, please anything…Rupp Arena has gotten SPOILED, that never, ever happened when I was in Rupp (over 60 games), Never ! And worst than that, was that 90% of the Wildcat Fans, KNEW that was the most ” Pivotal Moment ” of the Game…..Our Young Wildcats Needed your energy and chaos to help disrupt any ” New Momentum ” Our opponent was attempting to Rally, ” And They Did “. Many of you want to question the Will and/or Pride of this Young Team, maybe we can start with Ourselves. I Love this TEAM…But, I would like to see that Old School ” Hook Shot ” of Wiltjer’s put on display, personally, I would force Wiltjer to stay in the Post, forget about his three for now, We need to teach him to fight for his space and place down low.

    • Jim Boyers says:

      The biggest momentum buster was the A&M coach. EVERY time UK started to roll, he called a timeout. Out of EVERY timeout UK was as flat as could be. It was the most masterful use of timeouts I have ever seen. This UK team has no concept of maintaining momemtum through a dead time.

  • Jim Boyers says:

    No one has been more optimistic than me about this team, but I am starting to think that my optimism has been misplaced. I am starting to think that this team may already be all it will be. They may just be an average team and may underachieve (based on being the #1 recruiting class and pre-season expectations) for the rest of the season. This may be as good as it gets.

    My first thought, after the game, was that they are going to be lucky to make the tournament. Based on how they have played, against the first two, lesser SEC teams, I find it hard to imagine them winning more than 9 or 10 games. At best, that would put them as a 10 or 11 seed and, more probably, solidly into the NIT.

    • grant says:

      Jim I thought they really had turned the corner after the L’ville game or at least started too. Cal has got his hands full and he actually has team that is playing like their age indicates. It was bound to happen that UK and Cal would finally get some young players who cannot play older than they are, and more than likely it will happen again . I guess its the nature of the beast. I am ok with it.

      • Karen Sprinkle says:

        Totally agree with you Grant. For once, other than Nerlens, we have freshmen who play like freshmen and no dominant personality on the court to shame them or whip them into utilizing all of the talents and efforts every second they are on the court. A coach can only do so much, especially with a short bench, to inspire players–it has to come from peer pressure or from within, IMO.

  • OldFan says:

    This team, if you want to call it that, has not shown any ability to sustain desire or fire-in-the-belly outside Noel. Harrow does have desire, but I don’t see the fire in him to bust his butt to win. Cauley-Stein, Wiltjer, Poythress, and Goodwin show it when they want to, but I don’t see them having the fire to lay it all on the line for a victory. I am not sure they are even listening to Cal because they seem to just do what they want. CS, Poythress, and Goodwin should have all been benched in the first half when they were getting beat on nearly every offensive possession by A&M and had no desire to block out and rebound. Maybe if the walk-ons had been inserted, these so called Super Stars would change their attitude. This group has no fear of losing their playing time, even if they don’t listen. Cal has backed himself into a corner with this bunch because he has absolutely no one to push them for playing time. He will never keep Wiltjer on the bench for poor defense, because he can’t and Wiltjer and the rest of team know it. Until there is fear of playing time, I am not sure most of this group will ever play harder than they want to. Right now, if this group does not become a team, they will have to “back” into the NCAA, because they have no desire to earn it. Maybe Sean Woods could see more than people gave him credit for because as of right now, I don’t think he was too far off.

  • LindaS says:

    I thought the UK fans who were still in Rupp showed a lot of class when Turner left the game by acknowledging his accomplishment tonight by applauding when he left the floor.

  • UK 24 7 says:

    Calipari’s lack of ability to develop players is becoming more apparent as the season progresses. Today’s lack of coaching skills was sooo apparent as it was in the other FOUR losses.

  • Judi Cole says:

    UK 24 7, I don’t understand your comment about Cal’s inability to develop players. Were you not a fan the past 3 years when major progress was made from the beginning to the end of the year? Our biggest problem is not having the experienced players we need to lead the freshmen. All of Cal’s previous teams had at least two very good “glue” guys who could keep us in the fight when the fresmen had given it their all. I will never give up on these guys and know that their talent will pull us through some tough games. There’s a lack of confidence in some of our players and I hope Coach Cal can build them back up.

    • LindaS says:

      Judi Cole, you got it all right. I also think their work ethic on the court is not up to par. It is their problem, not Cal’s. You need that ‘glue’ guy.

  • Mike says:

    Need the gut guy or two if not more than the glue guy.

    • Gene says:

      You have seen at least one of those you require.
      His name is Nerlens Noel.
      You weren’t watching ? : )

  • donv says:

    Sometimes you have to take your hat off for the other team. Turner put on a show today that has not been seen many times in Rupp. A&M would have beaten most teams today.

    • Larry Pup says:

      Amen donv. A&M was on fire the last 4 or 5 mins. They just whipped UK thats the bottom line. Besides, we are becoming a football school. Don’t despair people, all will work out in due time. As for Cal, I pray he never leaves.

  • Jim says:

    The Cats don’t have the veteran leadership, like in past years. But, so what. I like what Cal is doing and wouldn’t trade him for any other coach out there. Nobody likes to see their favorite team lose at home to an unranked team. It happens. This team can still pull out a good year. I have no problem with a down year, that is grouped together with championship runs and final four appearances. The way Cal puts teams together is way better than having a team of very good veterans that will not get drafted at the end of the season. Those veteran teams may be a lock for a sweet sixteen birth, but you need the best players to reel in championships.

    • Ben says:

      This is the chance you take with Cal’s system! With only seven quality players, if a few are not up to standards, there is not much you can do to motivate them. I will support every team that KY puts on the floor. Next year will be much better. I would not trade Cal and his system for any other. Just sit back and remember the Tubby years! Nothing can discourage me about this team or Cal’s system. It has never been better in my lifetime. Go Cats!

  • coldspringmike says:

    UK 24 7 “lack of coaching skills”– have you been living under a rock and just came up for air ? for the last 3 years opposing coaches and basketball experts have been praising Cal for his ability to take new players every year and turn them into a TEAM. After the Louisville game this year the Louisville coach ( whatever his name is) said no other coach in America can coach young players into a team the way coach Cal can. Seems others tend to disagree with you.

  • Coach Cal knows all about the, “we’re with you win or tie” or “what have you done for me lately” and lastly, “how soon they forget” types…our fan base is no different than others in that we have our share. These are the same types that would kill the maintenance man if he was 15 minutes late in repairing the microwave…they’d be the first to surrender their weapons to the French, if they weren’t issued electric sleeping blankets for their foxholes. While it may be a somewhat over used phrase, “act like you’ve been there”, seems appropriate for these fair weather fans.

    • Gene says:

      Classic Phillip !! Absolutely classic.
      Along with Judi Cole’s response, a primer in what makes (or doesn’t make) a true fan, Blue or otherwise.

  • AndyP says:

    No one can teach natural instincts. How many dumb mistakes do you have to see to realize Goodwin and Poythress don’t have enough basketball IQ to fill a thimble.

    • King Ghidora says:

      There does seem to be a lot of mistakes being made by the freshmen. But the thing is that we have been spoiled by exceptional freshmen at UK under Cal. Most of the time freshmen play like Goodwin and Poythress are playing. It is a rare, rare thing to have players like Davis come in and play like veterans. And UK has had Cousins, Wall, Knight, Jones, MKG, Lamb, etc, etc, etc, over the past few years. Look around at what those guys have done in the pros. It just isn’t possible to have players like that every year. There aren’t that many players like that. But Cal teaches them as well as anyone.

      The one thing UK didn’t have in that loss was someone to defend Turner. I’m not sure anyone could have. I remember watching his dad play really well against the Cats as well. But there’s a story line no one has picked up on. Turner played for Washington for 2 years before transferring to A&M. That would be the same Washington team that lost both Jones and Kanter to UK. I think there might have been a revenge factor involved in his play. I could see where he could think that UK stole his chance to play for a national title contender. The same year Jones and Kanter opted to go to UK after first picking Washington, Turner left the Washington team. I certainly don’t know that there was something to this but it would be interesting to find out. And yes I think Kanter would have gotten to play at Washington considering who was sitting in the cat bird seat for the NCAA.

  • Indiana Tom says:

    We had better get it together. The NCAA would love the cats out of the tournament.

  • Jim says:

    UK is playing as bad as the proofreader on this article is doing his job. LOL

  • beaker113 says:

    All the excuses n the world All the guesses and opinions, I have heard one person nail it:) plain and simple plenty of talent Lots lots of selfidhness(Goodwin) but all n all ABSOUTLEY no no no REAL basketball IQ pay attention to the passes???drives???standing ????? etc ????????????? some hae it some dont:) Cal can teach them everything n the world but NATURAL BASKETBALL IQ he cant sry:(

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