By LARRY VAUGHT
As Kentucky tries to regroup from a loss at North Carolina — it’s third loss of the season to a ranked team — coach John Calipari said Thursday he had a simple message for his players going into Saturday’s game against Belmont.
“You can’t change how we started. Not changing. You can change how you approach the end. And that’s how you’ll be remembered,” said Calipari. “We’ve made strides in practice, but you got to carry it over. You got to take the habits we’re trying to create, understand you really got to focus.
“And you can’t play as many minutes. Got to play less minutes. Means guys got to be ready to go in and out. The guys that are coming off the bench, you may not play as many minutes as you want because the guys take themselves out and he’s ready to go back. Just how it is right now.
“But this team at the end of the day has got to be a great defensive team. That’s what we need to be, and we’re not. And it starts (with) pressuring the ball. There’s five or six things. And again, personnel, understanding that’s got to be the best part of your game as an individual. Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) understood it because he didn’t shoot the ball well. He knew, ‘Well, I’m not making a name shooting jumpers. I’m making a name playing defense, rebounding, being vicious.’ And we have some guys here that they got to take that on.”
Calipari’s message apparently has hit home with sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein.
“What we’ve done, you can’t change it. So there’s no point in rethinking about it,” Cauley-Stein said. “The last three games, you can’t … I mean, there’s no point in going back unless you’re trying to teach a mistake and that’s about it. The losses, it’s done, it’s over with and the only thing you can control now is how we prepare for the next two games.
“But a lot of it has to do with just effort on defense and a lot of what he says, it comes down to the last five minutes of a game. Right now we don’t know how to close out the last five minutes of a game. That happens with young guys. It was the same with us last year. Hopefully it just comes and it starts clicking for us.”
Last year’s team, though, never clicked, went to the NIT and went out in the first round. Is this team better equipped to respond?
“We’ll find out. I can’t really tell you,” Cauley-Stein said.
Calipari says he always has a “sense of urgency” and wants his players better immediately.
“But it’s gonna be a process, and we all got to live with it — and me especially — that it’s not always on my timetable or our fans or the media when the light will go on. But I have all the confidence in the world it will at some point. I keep saying, our persistence versus their resistance. And just understand, I’m not changing,” Calipari said.
Calipari said it is “easier to play the way they play” than do what he’s asking to “fly” up and down the court on every possession like Texas did Wednesday night when it won at North Carolina, something UK could not do last Saturday.
“Well why aren’t we flying? Because it’s not their habit. Their habit is to jog it up and, ‘OK, now I’m going to beat this guy.’ We’re just trying to get that,” Calipari said. “It’s going to take time, but I tell you what: when they get it, they’ll be fine. But until then, games are going to be a struggle. And I’m used to us being up 20 at half. Doesn’t appear like that’ll be this team. We’re going to be in dog fights every night.”