By LARRY VAUGHT
Will two days of extra conditioning workouts help Kentucky when it hosts Portland Saturday?
Kentucky coach John Calipari was so frustrated after Tuesday’s lackadaisical second half against Samford in a 31-point win that he announced his team would have 7 a.m. conditioning workouts the next three weeks along with regular afternoon practices.
“It’s all mental. He is trying to get us more mental tough. There is no way we can’t be in shape. Going through the offseason and even how practices are now, there is no way we are not in shape. It’s all mental,” said UK freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein after Tuesday’s win. “You have to approach it like it’s going to help you. A lot of guys don’t do that. You approach it like it’s going to make us better and three weeks it’s going to be crazy how good we are. If you approach it in a good way then it is going to be a good outcome.”
Portland (3-5) is coming off a 68-60 loss to No. 18 Nevada-Las Vegas. Junior forward Ryan Nicholas had 15 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and a career-high six assists in 37 minutes for the Pilots, who led 28-22 at halftime and built a nine-point lead early in the second half with about 16 minutes to play before UNLV went on a 13-2 run.
Riley Baker hit a short jumper in the paint and Oskars Reinfelds made a slicing lay-up through the paint. The Portland lead was still nine moments later when Korey Thieleke converted a traditional three-point play that gave the Pilots a 39-31 advantage with 16:07 remaining.
The Pilots outrebounded UNLV 43-39, had a 36-28 edge in points in the paint and held the Runnin’ Rebels to 36 percent shooting. However, UNLV was 18-for-29 at the foul line while host Portland was just 5-for-9. Portland also had 21 turnovers that led to 21 points for UNLV.
Portland junior guard Korey Thieleke had a career-high 12 points for Portland and sophomore center Thomas van der Mars had 11 points and a career-high nine rebounds.
Cauley-Stein wasn’t convinced Tuesday that extra conditioning would make that big a difference in Saturday’s game because he said based on what returning players had told him, UK had already done more conditioning work with strength coach Rock Oliver than last year’s team ever did.
“They played a lot of pickup (in the preseason last year) and we were running every day and doing stations and doing five suicides between stations and they were not doing that last year,” Cauley-Stein said. “Coach Rock, I love that guy to death, but they are saying this is way harder than last year. So when people say last year they were so much better, blah blah blah, … they were not even doing the stuff last year like we are now. Now we are doing it every day before practice and they sure as heck were not doing that
“That really struck home with me. I don’t know if it did with anybody else. We are doing just as much as they were doing last year. We just have to start playing like they did last year with a lot of emotion and fire like we are not going to get beat and right now we don’t have that dog in us.”
Calipari thought it was more than not having the “dog in us” after Tuesday’s game.
“There’s nothing you can tell me other than you’re not in shape. That’s okay. That’s an easy one,” Calipari said. “Some of it may be mentally you’re not strong enough, you’re soft. So the conditioning is good. It makes you stronger mentally.”
Cauley-Stein joked Tuesday said early morning workouts weren’t that unusual because based on “my time here with Cal we are going to get up regardless” of whether they are conditioning or not.
“He’s the coach. If he doesn’t think we are in shape I guess we aren’t in shape. I feel good when I am out there. But who knows,” Cauley-Stein said.