By LARRY VAUGHT
At least three times Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson made sure to note his comments meant no disrespect to Kentucky. After all, UK had just beat his team 88-50 here Saturday.
But Sanderson certainly pointed out numerous flaws in the Wildcats — and UK coach John Calipari didn’t really disagree.
“No disrespect to Kentucky, but we self-destructed,” said Sanderson when asked about his team’s 24 turnovers and UK’s 35-11 run to end the game.
Kentucky led 43-29 at halftime and Calipari wanted to see his team put the hammer down to start the second half. Instead, UK waltzed out, gave up two easy scores — one came when freshman Archie Goodwin missed a 3-point shot and was late getting back on defense — and let Lipscomb cut into the lead. Calipari was so infuriated that he eventually substituted four players at one time, something he seldom if ever does.
“Start of the second half, Kentucky wasn’t ready to play. They gave us every opportunity,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson said teams that make “Kentucky guard full possessions are teams that will give them problems.”
Lipscomb lost 91-45 at Mississippi Nov. 23. Asking any coach to compare Mississippi to Kentucky during Calipari’s previous three years would not have been a hard question. This year it might be different.
“I just think Ole Miss has a bunch of seniors and older guys. They guard better than Kentucky does,” Sanderson said.
But can anyone really argue that a team might guard better than UK even if Lipscomb did shoot only 21 percent the second half? Calipari can’t because he says his team continues to have too many individual breakdowns on defense.
“They (Ole Miss) force you into turnovers. Kentucky doesn’t necessarily force you into turnovers. They were self-inflicted (turnovers today),” Sanderson said. “Ole miss got up into you. They are a strong, athletic, physical team. They are going to win a lot of games in the SEC. They are just a physical, nasty team that can match up with Kentucky’s size. I will be shocked if they are not top five in the SEC. They are good. They can apply a lot of pressure, turn you over and get easy baskets. They are better than they have been in the past. That just comes with having seniors.”
No one can describe Kentucky as a “physical, nasty team” — and Calipari said to wait and see what inside players like those at Mississippi and Tennessee might do to his team if the Cats don’t get nastier — even if the Cats did get hit with two technical fouls Saturday. With 16 minutes to play, UK was being outrebounded by Lipscomb before eventually winning that battle 42-32 mainly because Lipscomb quit making any shots.
But does Sanderson think UK can eventually be good like Calipari’s other three UK teams have been in March?
“Calipari has won a bunch of games and there’s a reason for that,” Sanderson aid. “He’s got a bunch of really good players. The bottom line is: Will those kids listen? Listening is a skill. He has a bunch of (high school) All-Americans. Sometimes they are hard to coach. If those guys buy in and not resist what he is trying to teach them, they’ve got a chance to be as good as they want to be.”
Kentucky certainly is better when Kyle Wiltjer, who had missed 25 of his previous 30 3-point tries, goes 7-for-9 from 3-point range and scores a season-high 23 points. More importantly, he got 12 rebounds — his first double-double at UK — and responded well to not being in the starting lineup for the first time.
Freshman Nerlens Noel stuff the stat line again — seven points, nine rebounds, seven blocks, four steals, one assist — but also got a technical foul and managed just five shots against a team not nearly as big and physical as what he’ll see from Louisville in two weeks or in SEC play.
Alex Poythress scored 11 points, but was 2-for-11 from the field and just could not finish near the rim. He also had just four rebounds, one reason he played just 25 minutes and did not start the second half.
Archie Goodwin? Maybe his worst overall game at UK. He got two first-half fouls and finished with 10 points (all in the second half), four rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He made a great hustling play to come from out of nowhere to block a fast break layup, but he was just out of sync offensively despite going 5-for-9 from the field.
Julius Mays? Kentucky’s shooter was 1-for-8 from the field.
Sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow was a bright spot with 12 points in 31 minutes, both UK highs. He was 6-for-13 from the field. However, he had just two assists and only one rebound even though he said after the game he thought he had more. And Jarrod Polson was solid with seven points on 3-for-5 shooting.
Calipari said his players were going to be questioned about why they did not play with more energy.
“What are you afraid of? We all see it. What we all want to see is change,” Calipari said. “You can blame whatever you want to blame. Say whatever you want, but at the end of the day everybody watching in the building and on TV wants to see you battle at a higher level.”
Calipari initiated tougher practices last week. He said one week was not time enough to change what players had been doing for “eight or nine years” and that he would welcome players saying they are too exhausted from practicing too much when they fail to make a play than hear a player like Poythress say he got beat for a rebound because his big toe hurt like he did Saturday.
Then Calipari issued a warning UK fans should heed even if they want to discount what Sanderson said.
“If we don’t start changing we’re going to struggle. That’s just how it is. We’ve already struggled in any game that anybody had any physical toughness to them, we’ve struggled,” the Kentucky coach said. “You either want to change or you have your excuses of why it’s happening. Let’s just change. That’s my thing. What we’re doing is trying to get them to change.
“Another thing is we’ve got to come together as a team. All this stuff, we like each other. Don’t talk, you’re selfish, bottom line. If you quit on a play, you’re selfish. You care more about how you feel than what the team needs. You can say what you want. I’m not selfish. Yes, you are. If you don’t talk to your teammates, you’re a selfish player.”
Calipari echoed Sanderson’s comment about UK players needing to listen much better.
“If they are listening, they’re not changing, and that’s what was frustrating for me today. I thought I’d see more of a change. I saw little change. We just went five days, and I saw little change. So if I see a little change in this next week, from that point on, folks, we’re not winning many. That’s a fact,” Calipari said.
“Now if I see change and change and change, it’s on. Everybody would say that’s where they thought they could go. They’re hearing, but they’re not listening. They’re hearing what we say, but they’re not listening to it. Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom, but each individual right now thinks they’re good. Like, I’m okay. Individual guys. Thinking, I’m okay. Until they all start, you know, caving a little bit, but we’ll see.”