Given Kentucky’s struggles right now, you might think the last thing they need is a road game at No. 10 Auburn; not according to this coaching staff. Today, assistant head coach Kenny Payne said tomorrow’s game is the perfect opportunity to see what this group is made of.
“If you’ve been around Cal long enough, you realize opportunity. This is a great opportunity to go into a hostile environment with a bunch of young players, freshmen and sophomores and go steal one. That’s the game plan. Go take one from them. They’re not going to give it to us. Without a doubt, they’ve been one of the best teams in this conference. They’ve only got two losses in conference. Everything would say we’ve got our hands full; so, go prove people wrong.”
Will losing three in a row be the slap in the face these players need to rise to the challenge? Payne hopes so.
“They’re getting a lesson there are no excuses at Kentucky. There is no, ‘My stomach hurts, I don’t feel good, I’m fighting the flu, I don’t have it tonight.’ There is no, ‘The referee gave me a bad call.’ There is no, ‘I was open and he didn’t pass it to me.’ The end result of all of this is, we brought you here to be winning basketball players, and that’s why you’re here. That’s your DNA or you would not be in this program.”
This staff is well-versed in dealing with freshmen, but after the first three-game losing streak of the Calipari era, Payne said they’re not backing off on holding players accountable for the mistakes, even if it hurts their egos.
“You have to hold these young people accountable. You have to make sure that you love them, that you — and, I hate to say the word — hit them in the face or hit them with reality. That means challenge them. Get after their butts. When you’re not playing hard, when you’re tired, that’s not acceptable, and we’re going to get after you for that…We’re going to challenge you as a freshman to think like a senior.”
Claw back vs. a top ten opponent or shrink further into the shadows? Tomorrow night will tell us a lot.