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By LARRY VAUGHT

It’s not easy for John Calipari to accept some things, but the Kentucky coach has come to realize there are certain things about his current team he must accept.

After his team lost to Texas A&M Saturday, he acknowledged that even though UK won the national championship last year, it was no luck to make the tourney this year if the Cats did not start winning more games.

After Tuesday’s 75-65 win over Tennessee, Calipari told UK fans to get used to a lot more close games this season.

“It was a good win for us, I’m happy with our guys, I came to this conclusion: In the last seven, eight years, I have coached teams that have absolutely womped on people, and this ain’t one of ‘em,” said Calipari. “And every game, we are going to be in is going to be a dogfight, and instead of going crazy about it, how about just accept it, right, and coach that way.

“I can’t imagine this team being up 20 on anybody, because you get up 12, 15, someone will try to steal a ball. They will foul. They will leave their feet. On an out-of-bounds play, one guy will not do what he’s supposed to, give up two layups. We are blocking every shot, so why would you grab arms when they dive in there? We are not trying to steal balls on drives, give ground, we just kept fouling, fouling, fouling.”

Kentucky has a team with individual talent that still has individual players struggling for consistency and that has kept the team from improving as rapidly as Calipari hoped.

For every plus, there seems to be a minus to offset it.

Against Tennessee, Kyle Wiltjer may have had his best all-around scoring game at UK. He had 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting along with five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 26 minutes. He’s had better scoring games, but this time he was just 2-for-6 from 3-point range and found ways to score inside.

Julius Mays, who came to UK known for his shooting, hit two key 3-pointers late in the game to finally enable the Cats to separate from the Volunteers. And Nerlens Noel was his stat-stuffing self with 12 points, nine rebounds, six blocks, four steals and two assists. He now has 44 steals in 16 games and has a shot at UK’s season record — 87 in 34 games by guard Rajon Rondo.

But on the minus side this game was Archie Goodwin, who was 2-for-10 from the field, made some bad decisions with the ball and fouled out with the game on the line. Alex Poythress had 10 points and eight rebounds — better numbers — but played only 24 minutes and Calipari said that was about eight minutes too many.

“I knew watching the tape that this would be close, and it was. I got upset a few times and about the 10 minute mark I got a little bit upset with a couple guys, but all in all, I told them after, the last eight years, winning 35 games a year, beating people by 30 … Well, this team is not capable of doing that,” Calipari said. “We are still learning to sustain effort and to trust each other. Then you can start becoming the team we want to be. Until then, we are going to be mired in the stuff we are in right now.”

The players know Calipari is trying to teach and motivate at the same time. Noel seems to have got his message better than anyone and seldom has an off night. Other players at times also played with more emotion — Poythress even gave Noel a chest block after he blocked a shot — and Calipari didn’t even have a problem with some of his players exchanging smack talk with Tennessee players.

If there’s anybody that was getting sand kicked in their face, you know, at some point, you have to stand up. We don’t teach that. I’m not teaching it, but I know this: You put your heels in the sand, and you know, like if I see somebody talking to one of my players and they are not challenging back, I’m not happy,” Calipari said. “It’s not what I want, but I’m not — you’ve got to be a man. This is a man’s game and this is a man’s league we play in. You have to play through bumps. Quit crying about fouls. Everybody is fouling everybody.”

Maybe that’s another sign this team could be coming of age, and one positive to take from what was an ugly game at times — the teams combined to shoot 48 free throws.

But UK did outrebound Tennessee, who Calipari said is one of the better rebounding teams in the SEC, 34-30. Of course, part of that might have been because Jarnell Stokes played only 15 minutes — he still had five rebounds — and he’s a ferocious rebounder at times.

Kentucky also stopped the bleeding quicker than it has in other games. The Cats had a 47-39 lead with 13:34 to play before the Vols went on an 8-0 run. But that was better than the 18-0 run UK allowed at Vanderbilt when it had a 47-31 lead. And when the Cats got a 61-56 lead with 5:04 left on the first of Mays’ two 3-pointers, it put the game away thanks to another trey by Mays and two scores by Wiltjer off plays he asked Calipari to run.

That gave UK a win it desperately needed going into games at Auburn Saturday and Alabama Tuesday. Win both and UK could maybe gain back some confidence it lost when it fell to Texas A&M.

“In time I feel that we can womp teams. Right now, it is a process and we have different types of players,” Poythress said. “We can beat teams by 20 and 30, but not right now. We have to stay patient and keep working to that point. We really need to mesh together on the court, and play together at all times. We have to step up communication, defensively, and have each other’s back.”

But even then, Calipari knows he’s probably right to say this team won’t dominate SEC foes and the wins like the ones over Vandy and Tennessee are the kind of games UK will have to grind out this year because this group won’t be doing any womping.

27 Responses to Calipari knows these Cats will not womp teams and he has to accept that and coach that way

  • We won and Indiana lost, so it was a pretty good night…think Coach Cal stated the situation rather accurately. Keep improving guys…go Cats!

  • Jim Boyers says:

    During the latter part of the second half I told my daughter that this team wasn’t going to blow any team out, no matter how bad the other team is and we would just have to get used to it. When Cal said that, in his postgame show, I got a little sad. It was what I had been thinking and I knew it was true, but I hated to hear it from a reliable source.

    The really unfortunate part is that I CAN imagine this team playing their best and going up by 15 or 20 (it has happened several times), but, just as they have done in almost every such instance, they will allow the other team to steamroll them and tie the game or make it much closer than it needs be.

    Enough unhappy thoughts though. I have almost completely (there is always the slight hope that it is wrong) come to grips with the fact that this team “is what it is” and I am going to concentrate fully on enjoying the ride. It isn’t such a bad thing watching this team. It is often frustrating, but I believe they are trying hard. If only they would start buying into the complete team concept, they just might make something special happen. If not, I will still support them and still be in my seat, be it at home in Rupp or in front of my TV when they are away.

  • Lori Metcalf says:

    Jim, you make a good point about them not buying in to the team concept. I don’t understand why this should be such a big problem for them. Clearly, their way isn’t working. Surely they can see that. Surely they can see that Cal knows what he is talking about and if they would listen and act accordingly, they would get the outcomes they — and everyone else — wants the majority of the time.

    I get that they’re all very talented and have to adjust to being a small fish in a big pond after the glory days of high school. We are now halfway through the regular season and the time for the adjustment excuse has passed. Now it is either a lack of will or a lack of ability.

  • Jerry Adams says:

    Coach should take Goodwin out behind the woodshed. At least 3 times, that I saw, he had a teammate open for a better shot. He stole the ball and went in for a lay-up instead of passing the ball to Kyle who was ahead of him. He tried a highlight dunk and missed, instead of passing the ball to Mayes for a lay-up. At the end of the first half he drove to the basket, did get fouled for 2 free-throws, Mays was behind him for a wide open 3. I think this is part of the problem coach has been talking about. imo.

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      Calipari can call out his under performing players and he can chew them out and he can even take them to the woodshed, but he cannot bench them. He has no one to play in their place.

      In this case Goodwin knows that he is NBA bound and that he will be a lottery pick.

      • RJ says:

        Yeah. YOu can’t teach character. Best thing that can happen to Goodwin is for the NBA to say he isn’t ready for the lottery this year. That might get his attention.

        I like Cal’s concept. Get the 5 best players in the nation and go for the gold. The problem is, it’s high risk. You get an underperforming player or two or a selfhish player or two and it blows the entire scheme. I remember one of our best guards that came off the bench is in the NBA right now. Depth is the great equalizer on a basketball squad.

      • larryvaught says:

        Goodwin is team’s best perimeter player. I don’t believe he is a selfish kid at all. I just think he is struggling to learn his role. Remember when lot thought Liggins sulked, was selfish early. I never thought that. Some kids just need longer to adapt and figure things out.

        • Larry Pup says:

          When the chips are down we’ll be glad we have Goodwin. He is a great player, and will come grow as the season unfolds.

  • grant says:

    Good thing they have some shot blockers because they get caught out of defensive postion so much , the shot blockers can make up a little bit for it. Really undisciplined play.

  • donv says:

    As has been written and said this team does not have a lock down defender. I don’t believe Archie can be the guy without getting in foul trouble but I do believe that we could be a good zone team. I think we should be playing some zone every game just to slow these guys up that are going off on us.

  • UKFMLY says:

    Did we win last nights game? I was just wondering because it sure sounds like we didn’t.

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK GO BLUE AND RELAX AND ENJOY THE RIDE

    • Jim Boyers says:

      Come on now UKFMLY. You know there are 2 absolute truths in Big Blue Nation:
      1) The sky is Kentucky blue.
      2) Said sky is ALWAYS falling.

      Much like this team, we are what we are.

      We still love them though.

      • RJ says:

        Jim you hit the nail on the head. But it’s hard not to be critical when you can see with your own two eyes what this team CAN be. Personally, I think we are one man short in getting into and staying in the Dance after the season.

      • UKFMLY says:

        LOL truer words have never been spoken

      • Kokamo Joe says:

        Re: the sky is always falling

        It may be true that this team is not up to the standards that Calipari has previously set. It is true that many are writing this team off and some have actually written that the Cats will not make the NCAA tournament. No way will this team NOT MAKE THIS TOURNAMENT. In the first place, UK can and should beat most SEC teams by playing even their C game. I once posted that UK would only lose 2 SEC games. I will back off a bit and say that there are at least 10 wins in this league if the Cats don’t improve at all before the end of the regular season. In the second place the NCAA loves Kentucky. We would travel to the moon to follow this basketball team. When UK plays on TV, especially in the NCAA tournament the ratings are sky high. The NCAA not only will place a UK team with a mediocre record and a low RPI in the tournament, but they will push us to a higher seed than some expect. So don’t hang your head and think that UK is NIT bound. Rejoice that we are certain to be in the tournament and that by that time this team may have matured to the point where then might even be able to beat a few good teams.

  • Wlkmja says:

    To compete for any championship, the team has to have talent,leadership, experience and cohesiveness. Last year was such an aberration because of the NBA strike that allowed the All Stars to scrimmage at Lexington in October. That got the attention of everybody as far as just how had they had to work together. Also, Darius Miller’s presence in all of the off the court activities cannot be overstated. As an observer of UK since 1965, I think that this is the year that we get to see how the meal gets made, instead of just raving about how good it tastes.

  • I watched the replay late last night and Jerry you are spot on about those 3 incidents involving Goodwin…trying for a high lite dunk when Harrow was out front and on the right side of him cost us 2 and possible 3 points. Love all the good things you bring to the table Archie, but give more thought to the team. Your last paragraph Jim Boyer expresses exactly where I am with this team…just going to set back and enjoy the ride and hope I get surprised-go Cats!

  • dave boles says:

    what is it going to take to get goodwin to play team ball? the bench would be fine,i would rather lose than watch goodwin continue to make bone head selfish plays,i like the rest of the team,if poythress will start playing to his potential we’ll be a competive team,and maybe pull out the sec. title,but i really don’t believe we can do it at this point,i think florida and ole miss will put a hurtin on us,but i love cal and always the big blue. what is up with goodwin,please play team ball,look to your teammates and he will be a better player.

    • UKFAN197TONE says:

      Without Goodwin, this team loses more games than it already has. He’s a scorer and a slasher. YES, he has made some mistakes, but he will learn and UK needs his points. If he was as bad as you make him out to be, he would be sitting near Long…at the end of the bench.

  • LindaS says:

    I have not had to use my new seat belt this year, instead I just added foam padding to the floor for when I fall out of my chair, which really has not been that often so far this season.
    I don’t know why we expect this team to be last years team or the team before that or the team before that. These are different players, different mind sets, different histories and different talent. I have said several times these young men seem to believe their hype coming out of high school and don’t want to work or learn it Cal’s way. I love these boys, don’t know any other ones I would rather have other then AD & MKG but that is not going to happen.
    These young men have the idea because they have Kentucky across the chest and Cal is their coach they have a big ticket out of Lexington. We all agree there is a team feeling lacking. We all know they aren’t trying as hard as they can. But, they have improved a lot, Cal has put a fire under several of them and the rest are going to have to follow suit.
    I’m not disappointed, I did not have any expectations of #9 this year. We don’t buy players like one team did for many years. Cal hand picks players not just for their talent but because they are good students and decent young men. Look how often you see Nerlens doing something in the community. This boy has got it.
    I think Noel is the most mature player on the team. He has his head on straight. These boys are going to take a little longer to mature and get it. I have faith in Cal, he knows what he is doing but I can’t help but notice how frustrated he is at time. It’s OK, We Are Kentucky and I would not change any of that for anything this year, next, the year after that and the year after that and so on and so on.
    So we don’t make it to the final dance of the big dance, it is still the best program on any court. So we don’t hang #9, big deal. I bet this team is going to surprise us though. Just keep watching.
    Now Kyle had a stupendous game last night, glad to see him getting a lot of love, hope he continues to show his stuff.
    Livin’ Blue & Lovin’ It!

  • bryan mceuen says:

    We got to relize what we got as far this team goes and go on cheer them on regardless. I got faith in them and it’s a shame some people wants to be criticle of them that’s not a true cat fan. Go cats!!!

  • dave boles says:

    you can have a opinon and still be a big blue fan,i am and always will be,i didn’t and don’t expect #9,but because we are ky. and do have the very best coach in college ball,i expect our players to give 100% and play to win. my coments about goodwin are because we were certainly spoiled last yr. but i never saw a more talented team play so unselfishly.go cats!!! mr. goodwin trust your teamates and show us what this team can do.

  • KYCATnVA says:

    Watched the first half verses TN and switched over to NCIS! Watching this team is just to much of a chore. Flipped back over with 4+ minutes left and saw what looked like an offense moving the ball around then I noticed Archie wasn’t on the floor! Archie is a talent but a cancer with his “me first” attitude. Wasn’t aware he fouled out until I saw the box score. We CAT fans are definitely spoiled, but watching last years team was the most enjoyable display of KY basketball since the Larry Steele days! The best thing that can come out of this years team is that Nerlens and Willi are the only kids drafted!! That more than anything coach says to them will grab their attention…. Love the CATS…

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