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By LARRY VAUGHT
Not sure I can remember a Kentucky fan base being so disappointed in a UK team in recent years — or specifically upset with what it feels has been a lack of all-out effort. Kentucky went to Georgia Thursday night needing a win to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Instead, it lost 72-62 and was again beat too often on the boards and to loose balls while the offense struggled for any continuity.
Here’s a sampling of Twitter messages I saw from UK fans during the game.
— @MrJoshHopkins: “Dead team walking.”
— @aepps25: “lackluster….no sense of urgency with the post-season on da line… I will never say these kids don’t care because I know they do…”
— @PeruvianSkies4: “They really don’t even look like they want to be out there. It’s sad.”
— @kickerky: “The name on the front of the jersey is the only thing that makes this a Kentucky team. #teamnochemistry”
— @tracylynnluvsUK: “I’ve seen kindergartners play better basketball with more intensity than this.”
— @terryblumer: “we are getting out hustled, outplayed!! It seems like these guys could care less. Sloppy play all over the court!”
— @RDSUK: “No skills or IQ. Team may be done”
— @ukgreg90: “As a UK alum and fan this team embarrasses me with their lack of hustle, heart, and pride.”
— @KevinJasper: “There is a Kentucky fan in Mississippi that is about to come UnGlued! Lets Fight, Cats!”
— @dganstine: “This team makes me sad. Maybe more sad than Gillispie NIT team. That team fought more than this, even handicapped by coach”
— @amyfadoolCSN: “Welp…if UK loses to UGA (down by 11 with under 5 to play), I think they should decline the impending NIT invite. Don’t deserve it #NoFight”
— @Wildcatty11: “I’ve made excuses for this team all season but I can’t do that any longer, I can’t defend lack of effort. Just disappointed in that.”
— @leslie_neeley: “I always try to be positive about this team on #KSTV…tomorrow will be different. They’ve given me no reason to do so.”
— @TheErinCalipari: “The UK fans on my feed are making Jerry Tipton look like a glass half full kind of guy.”
— @SethDavisHoops: “Gotta figure Kentucky moves to first four out with this loss. Win vs Fla puts them back in.”
— @outRAGEous02: “Remember how great it felt to win the title last year? This is the exact opposite of that feeling!!!”
— @MrJoshHopkins: “It’s okay. Wait till March… No, NEEEEEXT March.”
Hopkins, a successful actor, probably summed the feelings for UK fans with his “dead team walking” and “Wait till March” of 2013 tweets.
UK fans have all but written off this season and area already all-in on next year’s team that will feature at least six new players.
Kentucky could beat Florida. If it doesn’t, it could still win the SEC Tournament because even with the Georgia loss it likely will still get a bye into the quarterfinals.
However, Kentucky is a team that had no chance to be as good as last year’s national title team even before it lost Nerlens Noel, its best player, to a season-ending knee injury.
But this team has somehow seemed to alienate a fan base that just a year ago was in love with everything the Cats did.
KURT VOIGT, AP Sports Writer
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Coty Clarke did a lot of everything when Arkansas needed it the most.
Clarke had 14 points and 12 rebounds and the Razorbacks did their best to make a renewed case for an NCAA tournament bid with a convincing 73-60 win over Kentucky on Saturday.
Clarke had six assists and three steals for the Razorbacks (18-11, 9-7 Southeastern Conference), which improved to 17-1 at home. Their only loss in Bud Walton Arena this season came to then-No. 6 Syracuse on Nov. 30 and they are now 33-4 at home under second-year coach Mike Anderson.
Marshawn Powell had 15 points and BJ Young added 13 for Arkansas, which snapped a two-game losing streak with the win.
Arkansas native Archie Goodwin led the Wildcats (20-9, 11-5) with 14 points, while Willie Cauley-Stein had 13 and Ryan Harrow added 10.
After a tight first half, Arkansas took control early in the second and never let off the intensity against the defending national champions.
A sellout crowd of 18,139 in Bud Walton Arena arrived early and thrived on a serious of highlights for the Razorbacks ‚Äî particularly as they pushed the lead to as many as 15 points in the second half.
An 11-0 run early in the second half ‚Äî capped by a 3-pointer and three-point play by Powell ‚Äî gave Arkansas a 43-31 lead and put it well on its way to a much-needed win if the school hopes to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
Kentucky, which had won three straight, closed with within 45-40 after a 3-pointer by Alex Poythress, but that was as close as it would get.
Young answered with a lay-up on the other end for the Razorbacks, starting a 7-0 run whcih put them up 52-40 and effectively put the game out of reach for the Wildcats ‚Äî which committed 19 turnovers that led to 30 points for Arkansas.
Clarke, in just his 10th start of his first season for the Razorbacks as a junior-college transfer, had the final six points of the run. His put-back of a Young miss and following free throw to complete the three-point play put Arkansas up 50-40, and he followed that moments later by grabbing his eighth rebound ‚Äî leading to a foul by Kentucky and two more free throws.
Arkansas led 32-29 at halftime despite shooting only 30.8 percent (12 of 39) in the half. The Razorbacks did so behind seven points from Powell in 11 minutes, and they scored 13 points off 11 Kentucky turnovers.
The Wildcats went up 12-6 early after a free throw by Goodwin, who led Little Rock’s Sylvan Hills High School to an Arkansas state championship a year ago, but the turnovers began to take its toll after that.
Young followed Goodwin’s free throw with a lay-up on the other end, beginning a 12-2 run that gave the Razorbacks the lead for the first time and ended with them ahead 18-14 following a free throw by Young. The sophomore entered the game 2 of 19 from the field over his previous two games, but he finished 5 of 13 from the field on Saturday.
Jarrod Polson put Kentucky bad ahead 26-25 with a pair of free throws, the last lead the Wildcats had in losing for the first time since an 88-58 setback to Tennessee. That was their first game without the nation’s leading shot blocker, Nerlens Noel, following a season-ending knee injury.
Kentucky had won three straight since then, including an 85-55 thrashing of Mississippi State earlier in the week, but they had no answer for Arkansas’ home magic on Saturday.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
By LARRY VAUGHT
The first time Kentucky and Texas A&M met, Elston Turner and Kyle Wiltjer had dramatically opposite games.
Turner put on a historic performance in Rupp Arena to score 40 points and lead the Aggies to a stunning 83-71 win. He was 14-for-19 from the field, including 6-for-10 from 3-point range, and also had six rebounds and no turnovers in 37 minutes. Wiltjer played just 19 minutes and the UK sophomore failed to score. He was 0-for-2 from the field, grabbed two rebounds and made a turnovers.
Now the two teams play again Saturday at Texas A&M and Turner and Wiltjer could be the game’s determining players again. Since the A&M game, Wiltjer has played some of his best basketball at UK. He had 26 points in Tuesday’s win at Ole Miss even though he didn’t score the final 16 minutes. He was 10-for-19 from the field, but he also had seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. He didn’t make a turnover.
In UK’s last five SEC games, Wiltjer is averaging 16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.0 steals per game while making 31 of 60 shots from the field. In UK’s six losses, Wiltjer has averaged 7.0 points per game. In the 14 wins, he’s averaged 14.1 points a game.
“I have been pushing myself harder than I have ever thought I could push myself. I am trying to lead the guys through practice. I am almost practicing harder than I would play in a game just to make the games easier,” Wiltjer said recently when asked to explain his improvement after being blasted publicly by coach John Calipari for his poor play in the SEC opener at Vanderbilt. “I hate losing. I hope everyone has the same passion to win. We need to embrace this and have fun, and that is what I have been doing.”
Turner has gone the opposite direction since his record-setting game at UK. In the last five games since the victory over UK, he’s managed just 52 points. He’s missed 39 of 57 shots from the field. He got only four points against Florida. He managed just five against LSU. He didn’t score in the first half of Wednesday’s overtime win at Mississippi State before finishing with 11 points.
He also had seven turnovers at Mississippi State and has made at least one turnover in every game since the Kentucky win. His team had also lost every game — four straight — since the Kentucky win before rallying to get the victory at Mississippi State.
Wiltjer has blossomed by showcasing his entire game, not just his 3-point shooting. He’s shown the ability to drive and finish with either hand as well as set up teammates with nifty passes. ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes said during Tuesday’s win at Ole Miss that Wiltjer “was the only Kentucky player that could make teammates better” because of his all-around ability.
Wiltjer has played more in the low post with the absence of Willie Cauley-Stein, a move that has helped him.
“I have always felt more comfortable playing in the low post. The more I do it, the more comfortable that I feel,” Wiltjer said.
Calipari has also adjusted his zone offense to get Wiltjer more touches near the free throw line where he can shoot or pass.
“If they’ve got to play that guy, it makes everybody else’s job a lot easier. And he’s comfortable in there. He wants the ball,” Calipari said.
Calipari said he “publicly talked about” Wiltjer and his play after UK’s win at Vanderbilt because “I wasn’t getting any change just talking to him and the team.”
However, he said unlike some other players, Wiltjer took the criticism as motivation and start spending more time in the gym and practicing hard.
“I’m not deriding them. I’m just making it factual that if you look, this is what they’re doing, and we need that to change. He changed. What changed? I asked the guys, what changed for him? He is like an animal in practice, just an animal,” Calipari said.
Texas A&M shot 47 percent from the field at Mississippi State and won the rebounding battle for the sixth time in seven SEC games. Junior guard Fabyon Harris led all scorers with 17 points, his eighth double-digit scoring game in his last 11 contests. Sophomore forward Kourtney Roberson finished with eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds and freshman J’Mychal Reese scored six of the Aggies’ eight points in overtime.
Calipari knows his team can’t relax because it won at Ole Miss. Kentucky followed a convincing road win at Auburn by blowing a 14-point lead and losing at Alabama.
“They are starting to trust each other. I enjoy the physicalness of the game (at Mississippi). I thought Alex (Poythress) was great,” Calipari said. “They are all way better than a month and a half ago. But this next team beat us at Rupp Arena.
By KEITH TAYLOR, email@example.com
John Calipari couldn’t say enough about Alex Poythress following Kentucky’s 75-70 triumph over LSU Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Calipari had plenty of reasons to gloat after Poythress scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, securing his fourth double-digit outing in the team’s past five games. Poythress had just six points in the Wildcats’ 59-55 loss at Alabama last week, but made a strong recovery with a dominating performance against the Tigers.
“I was so proud of Alex, I can’t begin to tell you,” Calipari said afterward. “He’s has been basically in his mind, been tortured to play hard and compete.”
Poythress stopped short of calling his experience a “torture” but admitted it’s been an adjustment from high school to collegiate ranks.
“It is tough,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like torture but it’s just a long process. Everybody (learns) at different speeds and I’m just trying to make the best of it. I just try to work hard every game. Playing hard according to me and playing hard for coach Cal is whole different level. He expects more out of you and I’m just trying to make the coaches happy, trying to make the the right plays and help my teammates, because I’m playing for them too.
Calipari said Poythress is starting to “get it” and it showed against the Tigers.
“I was just trying to be more assertive in the game, trying to make plays for my teammates and make tough rebounds and stuff like that,” he said. “I just tried to play basketball today and wanted to have fun, play basketball the way I’m used to playing. It’s not more of an effort, you really just do it. You know, when you’re playing hard, it just comes off (easier) really.”
Poythress began the season began the season with a bang, scoring 20 or more points but failed top keep up the pace, scoring single digits in four of Kentucky’s previous nine games, including seven in a loss to Louisville. Poythress said his progression is a “process” that occurs on a daily basis.
“I’m just trying my best to do it every game,” he said. “Hopefully it will transition on the court.”
In addition to his post moves, Poythress made three of four free throws after LSU pulled within three with three minutes remaining and drained two more with one second remaining for the final margin. Poythress wasn’t surprised by the Tigers’ late surge after trailing by 15 in the opening half.
“They made a couple of tough shots at the end of the game that put them closer and they were contested shots,” he said. “We didn’t panic. We executed on offense and try to contain them on defense.”
Despite his “stone face” appearance at times, Poythress said the roller coaster ride on and on and off the court “is part of basketball.”
“I wouldn’t know why (playing basketball) wouldn’t be fun,” he said. “I’ve been playing it forever. I enjoy being out there making plays and just playing basketball. It’s always been fun for me. People shouldn’t wonder (if I don’t enjoy playing). I love playing basketball and it’s my favorite sport and I’ve been playing it since I was a young pup. I love this sport.”
Poythress was smiling as he walked off the court after the Wildcats avoided a third conference letdown. Calipari also gave Poythress a hug after the contest and simply wants the rest of his team to follow the lead set by his freshman forward and Nerlens Noel.
“I’m so ecstatic for Alex,” Calipari said. “Now we have to get some other guys to catch up.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has already lost two home games and not only is unranked, but for the first time in coach John Calipari’s four years at UK did not even receive a vote in the Associated Press poll this week.
Yet Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin made the Wildcats sound much more formidable going into tonight’s game than the Wildcats seem to have been, especially considering they lost by 11 points to Texas A&M at home Saturday.
“Kentucky speaks for itself. Talented across the board, good length on the block, perimeter guys that are quick, athletic and can score the ball. We have to do a really good job of keeping them off the glass, making their shot attempts tough, boxing out, making them work for possessions and not allow those guys to get out in transition and make easy plays,” said Martin.
While Elston Turner torched UK for 40 points Saturday, Martin insisted that UK’s defense looked solid to him.
“I think you start first and foremost with (Nerlens) Noel, the way he blocks shots and also (Willie Cauley-Stein). You got two guys 6-11, 7-feet tall, but also mobile, can switch out on different guys,” Martin said. “They alter shots, they get rebounds, they can move in ball screens, so you got to keep those guys where they’re moving constantly. You can’t allow those guys to sit around the rim and make plays and block a lot of shots and make you alter shots. So you got to get those guys out of their comfort zone.
“And I think even with their guards, they’re quick and athletic. You got to move that ball and then attack the rim. I don’t think you can come down one pass and then go inside when their defense is set because they’re tough to beat that way.”
Calipari said Monday that UK would have to “play its best” to win tonight’s game.
“We’re playing a Tennessee team that’s dropped a couple, but when you watch them play, their perimeter play, obviously they got some guards back. (Jordan) McCrae is really, really talented. Obviously (Jarnell) Stokes is a beast, the player that can score on you inside. I would imagine they’re coming in here hyped up,” Calipari said.
“Tennessee is good. I don’t care what anybody says — ‘Well, they’ve lost this game.’ Let me tell you, I just watched the tape. McRae can score with the best of them and Stokes inside. The other guys, they’ve got veterans. They are a good team. It’s another game in that list of games that you’re going to have to play. This is a big game. Stokes says, ‘We’re winning in Rupp Arena. We’re not losing in Rupp Arena.’ All right, how do you take on that challenge? Because I imagine he will be ready to play.”
Calipari wants to have players take pride in making defensive stops like DeAndre Liggins and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did the last two seasons.
“They took pride in it. Just said, ‘It’s not acceptable, and I’m playing you and I’m not fouling you and I’m gonna… .’ There’s a pride in that. And you’ve got to take that on as who you want to be. Both of those guys have driven that trait to the NBA,” Calipari said. “(You’re used to) shooting all the balls, going at your pace. ‘I’m tired, so I’m not going to go hard. There’s no sub for me.’ It’s a process. And that’s why I said I’m not upset with the guys. I know what they’re going through,” Calipari said. “I’d like to have won more games, but this is the process. My issue is, recognize it, now let’s begin to change. As long as that’s happening, we’re good. If it isn’t happening — if you don’t change, if you don’t recognize and then begin to change — there’s not going to be a change on the court. You keep getting beat.
“Now if there is a change, my vision is, there’s no one late in this season is going to want to play this team. If we get it right. But right now it appears everybody wants to play this team.”
Calipari said freshman Archie Goodwin could be the one to develop into a stopper as he did at least slow Turner down the second half. But the coach said he might also go to a zone defense that he’s used only briefly this season.
“We’re trying some different things, some things I’ve not done in my career that we’re doing. I played more zone in that game (Texas A&M) than I have since I’ve been the coach here. Maybe that’s something I go to,” he said. “We’ve been working on it. We’ve spent more time on zone defense in the last two weeks than we have in my entire coaching career.”
Calipari says he hates a zone defense and has been successful playing man-to-man defense.
“So, no, I know that’s the best way to do it,” he said of the man defense. “But I also know, more than anything else, I want this team to have a chance to win. So I’ve got to look at everything and say, ‘How?’ and be honest about it and not worry about me, because it’s not about me. This is about this team.”
Another worry against the Vols could be rebounding because UK had trouble keeping Texas A&M off the offensive board.
“We’re going to have trouble. That’s one of the issues we’ll talk about and deal with. You’ve got today’s practice to get ready for it. We’ve got to check out better,” Calipari said. “Some of it is you’ve just got to be tougher. You’re going to have to be more physical because those guys get after it.”
Martin felt his team started playing with better effort in Saturday’s loss to Alabama than it had in losses to Memphis and Mississippi.
“I thought after the Alabama game that was the old Tennessee team I was used to seeing from an effort standpoint and competing and we just came up short,” the Tennessee coach said. “So it’s just a case of playing defense the way we’re capable but also being able to put points on the board.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
During today’s Southeastern Conference teleconference, I asked John Calipari if it was frustrating that his team had not totally bought into what he was trying to and if he had had other teams with the same issues in mid-January. Here’s what he said.:
“Sure, sure. And the only thing that brings about a change is crisis. Now I’m hoping that (the crisis) is Texas A&M, but it may not be. We maybe need to get hit on the chin three or four more times before they look at each other and say it’s not working this way,” said Calipari. “You can tell a young man that this is how you have to play for us to win, and he may look at that and say that’s not how I want to play. He’ll nod his head yes, ‘OK, I’ll do it, I’ll do it,’ but in the crunch of the game he doesn’t do it, which, it costs you.
“There’s no one here – I’ve got great kids and they want to please me and they are looking for affirmation, there’s no question, but it’s the point of totally buying in to how you have to play. I see DeAndre Liggins last night, 11 points, nine rebounds and guards the player that he has to show out. Well, you know and I know that he bought in here. He bought in that he was going to be the stopper versus I’ve got to be the point guard and have the ball and do all the shooting and all that. It took three years now, but when he changed, it changed his life. You look at Josh Harrellson. When he changed and bought in, it changed his life. But it takes time. Josh Harrellson almost got thrown off the team before he bought in.
“So we’ve got some guys here, they’re good kids, but part of buying in means change how you play, and you’ve got to play harder and compete more and you’ve got to do it full possessions. They’ve never done that, so it’s what we’re going through. But again, that’s part of the growth of a young team and a young team like we have.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow has become the go-to guy for insights about Kentucky basketball and provided plenty of them after Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M.
Question: What does this loss do to the team’s confidence?
Harrow: “I hope it doesn’t mess with anybody’s confidence because we have been working so hard. We just have to go out and be prepared for the next game. We have to keep guys’ morale up in the next practice and just be focused for our next game (Tuesday against Tennessee).”
Question: What kind of message did coach John Calipari have for the team after the game?
Harrow: “He just said more guys need to buy into the system. We just need to make changes.”
Question: What sort of changes?
Harrow: “Just who we are going to play and how we are going to play.”
Question: Do you worry that losses like this could keep you out of the NCAA Tournament?
Harrow: “I don’t worry about it. We are always supposed to make it to the NCAA Tournament. We have to keep that attitude.”
Question: Is there just a different mentality with this team compared to last year’s national championship team?
Harrow: “You have to remember that last year’s team had Darius (Miller) who was a senior, Doron (Lamb) and Terrence (Jones) who had played here one year already. They just had those type guys on the team. They had a little bit more depth. We definitely have had to grow faster.”
Question: Is there any chance some players thought it would be easier this year than what it really is?
Harrow: “I hope that is not the case. I don’t think that is what it was. It’s just a different level of basketball.”
Question: Were expectations too high for this team?
Harrow: “I wouldn’t say that. We have a good team. Everybody is just not buying into the system.”
Question: Did the Thursday night game in Nashville and then quick turnaround to Saturday afternoon game create any physical problems for the team?
Harrow: “I wouldn’t say we were tired, but I know that my body is pretty tired just from a lot of practicing and games back to back and stuff like that.”
Question: Why do you think this far into the season that not all players would buy in to what Calipari is saying?
Harrow: “Most of us are freshmen and sophomores. Just change of mentality from where you were in high school. Some other of coach Cal’s teams have taken off quicker. Last year’s team, Doron came back, Terrence stayed back and Darius was still here and Eloy was still here. It just takes time.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Nerlens Noel was never touted as being the offensive player that Anthony Davis was for Kentucky last year when he swept the national player of the year awards and even won an Olympic gold medal after helping UK win a national championship.
However, Noel is having an extremely productive freshman season for the Wildcats. Noel is averaging 10.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, 2.6 steals and 1.7 assists per game and shooting 57.1 percent from the field. Those numbers have had some like ESPN NBA draft analyst Chad Ford projecting Noel as the top pick in the June draft just as Davis was last year.
“Noel has been very good, especially on the defensive end,” said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas. “He is coming along nicely, and has shown terrific athletic ability and instincts. His productivity has been very good, and he keeps making progress. I think he has been among the best freshmen in the country.
“His activity level and high work rate impress me. Noel plays really hard, and is very active on the defensive end and on the glass. He is averaging close to 10 rebounds per game, he blocks shots and gets steals and deflections. He has the ability to protect the rim, not quite in the same way as Anthony Davis did, but still in a very valuable manner.”
Chris Dortch of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook thinks Noels has “played as well as can be expected” trying to follow what Davis did last year.
“I think he does a lot of things well and could eventually be a solid offensive player. He would help his cause if he could make more free throws,” Dortch said.
Noel had 15 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high six assists, career-high seven blocks and four steals Saturday in UK’s Southeastern Conference loss to Texas A&M. He’s now had at least six rebounds in every game and has had two or more blocks in eight straight games. He’s also 32-for-44 (72.7 percent) from the field in the last eight games.
How much could Noel improve offensively by March? Last year Davis expanded his offensive game dramatically in February and March.
“Noel is not polished as an offensive player, and doesn’t yet have reliable post moves to where he can get and hold position on the low block, be thrown the ball and make the right move to score, get fouled or both,” Bilas said. “Right now, he is playing off of penetration, offensive stickbacks and only occasionally gets the ball in a position to do something with it.
“I like how he has a positive assist-turnover ratio, too. There aren’t many big men that have more assists than turnovers. I do think he will continue to get better, and his game will continue to improve. However, I would not expect him to be (Akeem) Olajuwon by March. That wouldn’t be fair to him. Noel is a very good young player that is getting better and better, but he still needs to be allowed to develop at his own pace.”
Can he carry a team in March in postseason play?
“Not in the way that question usually means it, no. I don’t see Noel as a Carmelo Anthony-type or Danny Manning-type player. He is a valuable piece of a greater whole,” Bilas said. “For Kentucky to have great success in March and advance to the second weekend (of the NCAA Tournament), the point guard position has to be solidified.
“No team wins without good interior play, but no team wins without steady guard play, either. The best teams, championship teams, have both.”
Dortch says Noel simply has to keep making “daily improvement” like he has been doing until March.
“It’s nothing more complex than that. Daily improvement seems to be the norm at Kentucky under John Calipari. His players seem to peak as the season progresses and I would expect the same from him,” Dortch said.
Calipari could see Noel emerging as UK’s team leader based on the way he’s played in games providing he makes one change.
“Got to practice that way. Can’t just do it in games. Have to practice every day and have everybody know that you’re preparing yourself to be great. And as he does that, yeah, he could be one of those guys (to lead the team),” Calipari said.
Both Bilas and Dortch can see Noel potentially be the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“First, he has a lot to offer as a prospect, especially on the defensive end. He does not yet have the body for the NBA, but he has tools, and he plays really hard, which not all young big men do,” Bilas said. “Second, the draft is unusually weak this year. One has to ask, if not Noel, then whom? Clearly, this is not 2003 when LeBron, Carmelo, Bosh and Wade were among the first five selections.”
“He’s in the mix. Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA has started to play at a high level and will be under consideration, too,” Dortch said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — Just in case Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer may not have understood how upset John Calipari was with his defense here Thursday night against Vanderbilt, the UK coach left no doubt during his postgame press conference about his feelings.
“Defensively, they went right at Kyle. It did not matter who we put on Kyle,” said Calipari after the 60-58 win where UK blew a 47-31 lead before rallying to win. “Either we play zone or you (Wiltjer) don’t play or you figure it out. They had 24 first-half points and 14 came on Kyle. We are not accepting that.”
He was not the only player that Calipari criticized.
“We had 16 turnovers. Alex (Poythress) had four running people over. Archie (Goodwin) has five. That’s nine between two guys. You cannot win that way,” Calipari said.
Calipari said his whole team got “tentative” when Vanderbilt went to a second-half zone defense.
“All of a sudden guys did not want to take shots. Our best shooter (Wiltjer) caught it and passed it like it was a hot potato,” Calipari said. “They beat us to 50-50 balls. The beat us on long rebounds. Alex gets no offensive rebounds (actually he had two).”
But Wiltjer caught the brunt of Calipari’s frustration. Wiltjer was 1-for-5 from the field and 0-for-2 from 3-point range. He had one rebound, one assist and one turnover in 14 points. However, he did hit a field goal with under two minutes to play that broke a 54-54 tie.
What does Calipari want Wiltjer to do to improve?
“Figure it out. Either don’t stay in the game or figure it out,” Calipari said. “A fighter will figure it out. Play lower or rougher. Do anything you can to stay in the game. You can sit and sugar-coat it, but you watched it. They went at Kyle every single possession. I told him don’t think anybody is not watching the tape. Don’t think every team now is not going right at you. Good luck.
“I think he can do it. He has got to make up his mind to not settle for things. A couple of plays he broke down and did not rebound and they scored on him. Fight man.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Even for a seasoned college basketball analyst like Larry Conley, it’s not easy to figure out the team Kentucky coach John Calipari has this year.
Conley will see glimpses of brilliance. He’ll see periods of lacklustre play where the Cats lack energy. He’ll see superb individual plays. He’ll see severe team breakdowns.
“This type team is very difficult to measure,” said Conley. “Every team John has had you have the tendency, and it’s natural, to measure them against all the one-and-dones he’s had. Just on skill, the other three (teams he had at UK) were better than this one. But that does not mean they could not get better. I am starting to see Nerlens Noel really come around and do the things I thought he was capable fo doing. They are getting better.”
Conley worked last week’s 88-50 win over Lipscomb when he saw small signs of improvement. However, that doesn’t mean he left totally sold on the Wildcats.
“The guys that are really perplexing to me are Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress,” Conley, a starter on UK’s NCAA runner-up team in 1966, said. “They have a tendency to do things you would expect high school players to do and they do not appear to have progressed. Can they score? Absolutely. Do they have the ability to play at a high level? Yes.
“But for one reason or another, they have not come through yet. I think they are both very talented players, but they are not playing the way they should on every play. I know it is frustrating for John. He is trying to make them all better. That’s obvious not only in games, but also in practices I have watched.”
Both Poythress and Goodwin have been brilliant at times. Poythress became the first UK freshman since 1979 to score 20 or more points in four straight games. Goodwin leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game with Poythress second at 15.0. Goodwin is shooting 49 percent from the field and has been to the foul line 72 times in 10 games. He has been forced to play point guard at times and has 44 assists. However, he also has 32 turnovers. Poythress is averaging 6.3 rebounds per game and shooting 65 percent from the field. However, he has 29 turnovers and only five assists.
What about point guard Ryan Harrow? He has just three turnovers in 114 minutes compared to 16 assists. But he’s played in only six games — he missed four for personal reasons — and is averaging just 4.3 points per game despite scoring 12 points against Lipscomb.
“John has always had really good guards to run things,” Conley said. “Harrow has not been able to do yet what he wants him to do. I don’t know what the problem is. He is an experienced player. He has some quickness. He can play defense. He can actually do a lot of things. But it’s one of those things where he does not come to play every possession and he’s got to be able to do that at this level.”
Conley understands the inclination to compare this team, which has the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, with last year’s national championship team or the Final Four team from two years ago.
“It wouldn’t make sense for Kentucky basketball fans to look and not compare teams,” Conley said. “The one thing last year is that they had a couple of guys in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb that helped them quite a bit. They had three guys coming back ready to take over in tight spot, and that is a little different with one-and-done teams.
“They don’t have that this year, and it shows. (Kyle) Wiltjer played as good as he has played Saturday (23 points, 12 rebounds), but he’s not one of those guys like Miller, Jones or Lamb. He’s expanded his game. He’s a better rebounder now than last year and he’s starting to put the ball on the floor instead of accepting 3-point shots. But he’s still a long way from a complete package,” Conley said.
Problem is that Kentucky is running out of time to put that package together. The Cats play Marshall Saturday and Eastern Michigan Jan. 2. Then there is that rivalry game with Louisville Dec. 29.
“Once the season begins, you can’t stop the clock. Things just keep coming at you,” Conley said. “These guys have got to start progressing. It’s not like John has not taught them the things they need to know. It’s just a matter of them grasping it, and they need to start doing that very, very soon.”