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Calipari: “I’ve done away with the rotation”

John Calipari will no longer play guys just to play them. It’s crunch time in the regular season and only the players who deserve to play will see the floor moving the forward.

Following last night’s win at Arkansas, Calipari told reporters he has ditched his regular rotation and will now rely on whoever is playing winning basketball. He has tightened the leash on his substitutions and he is putting his full trust in the players he believes will win each basketball game, whoever that is on a given day.

“It’s that time of year,” he said.

Here is the full quote from the press conference:

“Well here’s what I’ve done: I’ve done away with the rotation, because everybody took advantage. They just did what they wanted to do. They know they were going in. So we have no rotation now. What I’m doing is if a guy’s playing well, he’s staying in as long as he can. ‘Please sub yourself and I’ll get you back in.’ And I’ll ride the guys who are playing. It’s that time of the year. I just gotta ride with the guys that are getting it done.

After the game, I told Hami, ‘Hami, we need you so stay with it. I had to coach to win this game. Stay with it. Everybody in here believes in you.’ The team hugged him and clapped, ‘We need you, Hami.’ ‘But you gotta keep—just focus on how hard you’re working and your attitude about getting better and we’re with you.’ But, again, I gotta coach the game to win and I thought Quade and Shai were good out there.”

Based on what we saw in the last two games, the best lineup is Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the backcourt, along with Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Dennis Rodman Jarred Vanderbilt.

John Calipari has his best group

Run with those five and everyone else helping out when they can, and Kentucky is a scary team in March.


Derek Willis joins USA Basketball World Cup Qualifying Team

Derek Willis joins USA Basketball World Cup Qualifying Team

Derek Willis got some good news on Tuesday when he was informed he has been named to USA Basketball’s 12-man World Cup Qualifying Squad.

Willis was a late addition to the roster, so he will have some catching up to do when he joins the team, which has already practiced for five days, in California today.

“I’m glad to be going,” said Willis, who tried out for the team in August. “I think it shows I’ve improved this year and that it’s been seen and they want me on the team. I’m excited about it.”

Team USA is made up of some of the top G-League players and is coached by Jeff Van Gundy. Its next game in the World Cup qualifying process is only two days away, when it hosts Cuba in Santa Cruz on Friday; followed by a Feb. 26 game against Puerto Rico, also in Santa Cruz.

Aaron Harrison is also on the team.


Calipari shared his message to Hamidou Diallo

Calipari shared his message to Hamidou Diallo

This past weekend John Calipari made it very clear that he is not giving up on Hamidou Diallo.

“I’m with Hami,” Cal said in his post-Alabama press conference. “He’s trying. He’s working. He’s got some habits that are so bad — and they are habits — that they pop out sometimes at the wrong time. My job is to make sure he’s not hurting the team or himself, and to keep working with him.”

And Diallo may be trying and working, but it’s not working — at least not since the comeback win at West Virginia. Over Kentucky’s last seven games, Diallo is 12-for-40 from the field, including a 1-for-12 clip from three-point range, with 16 turnovers and only one assist. He’s made several costly mistakes in key moments for the Wildcats and it’s fair to say his play has been extremely disappointing given his potential, which is why there has been a significant drop in his minutes.

But Calipari knows Diallo is still very important to the team if the Cats are going to do anything in March. It is a big part of Calipari’s current message to Diallo, which he shared in his postgame interview from Arkansas.

He said, “Here’s what I told Hami, just so everyone knows: I said, ‘Hami, we need you, to do what I want this team to do. You understand I have to win the game, and if someone is playing better than you, I’m leaving them in. If I think you look a little confused, I’m taking you out. But you have to keep working to play great. It may take another week or two, but we need you to do this.'”

As good as Kentucky looked Tuesday night, it still can’t go far without Diallo finding his way.


Did Mike Anderson trip Kevin Knox?

Did Mike Anderson trip Kevin Knox?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Around the 10:20 mark in the first half of last night’s game, Kevin Knox got his feet tangled up with Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson on a fast break. It tripped Knox up, but was it intentional?

It’s hard to tell looking at the film.

I lean unintentional, but it’s close.


© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Wednesday Morning Rapid Fire: Cats Cruise by Arkansas

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Turrible, Turrible Start —  Kentucky was down 11 in the blink of an eye.  The Cats gave up easy offensive rebounds and wide open threes.  Once they woke up, they were fine, but Kentucky can’t dig holes that deep in March.

Sharing is Winning — Kentucky had 16 assists, ten in the second half.  The last time they passed the ball that well, they came from behind to defeat West Virginia.

Bye-Bye, Rotation —  John Calipari said he’s finished rotating as many as nine players. “It’s that time of year. I gotta ride with the guys that are getting it done.”

Who exactly is in that lineup? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, and PJ Washington were the combination that sent UK soaring ahead in the second half and seemed to flow better than any other group we’ve seen this year.

Still Searching for Hami — Two quick offensive fouls stopped him before he ever got a chance to get going.

They Free — Kentucky was 17-of-20 (85%) from the free throw line. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Dominate the Paint — The Cats out-rebounded Arkansas by 17 and scored 12 more points in the paint.  With Jarred Vanderbilt’s minutes exponentially increasing, over the last two games UK has 34 more rebounds and 20 more points in the paint than their opponents.

This was Not a Foul

The Bench Balled — Kentucky’s bench scored 38(!) points as Washington, Green and Vanderbilt all reach double-figures.

Know Your Role —  Coach Cal had a team meeting last week to clearly define each player’s role. They got the message.

“We’re getting better because we’ve settled in on how we’re playing,” Calipari said. “There were times we looked confused. You know why? They were. I just tried to make it clear how we’re playing and why we’re playing the way we’re playing. A lot of this was on me. When you’re playing freshmen, you can’t blame them.”

Six Straight Losses to UK — It was also just their second home loss of the 2017-18 season.  Poor little piggies.

Missouri Lost —  The Tigers lost by three at home in overtime to the worst team in the league, who had their coach resign twice in ten days.  If they can’t beat Ole Miss at home, they can’t come to Rupp this Saturday to sweep the 2018 series against the Cats.

The Cliff was LIT — The Bat Cats couldn’t get a run with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth.  They fell to Xavier 3-2 in the tenth, but you could still call the 50th and final home-opener at The Cliff a success, thanks to a regular-season record crowd of 4,118.

@UKBaseball

@TylerGray_87

Mr. Brightside?


© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

I like the team I saw tonight

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Three minutes in, it looked like another one of those nights. Kentucky was down 11-0 in a deafening Bud Walton Arena with Arkansas showing no signs of slowing down. Then, something funny happened. Instead of shrinking into the shadows as they have several times this season, the Cats fought back, going toe-to-toe with the Razorbacks to turn a horrible start into an 87-72 win. More importantly, for the first time this season, they seemed to find their identity, giving a weary fanbase a much-needed dose of hope heading into the final stretch of the season.

Here’s what I liked from my team, because for the first time in a long time, there was a lot to like.

We found the lineup

After much experimentation, it’s clear that Kentucky’s best lineup is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade Green, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Jarred Vanderbilt. Funny enough, three of those guys didn’t start. Calipari went away from the rotations last week in hopes it would inspire his players to fight for minutes; it worked. Quade, PJ, and Jarred came off the bench to put up 36 of Kentucky’s 38 bench points. With Wenyen rotating in as the sixth man, Kentucky was the best version of itself, which is why it’s a little perplexing to this blogger that Calipari doesn’t just go ahead and start them.

What about Hami? He struggled again, putting up only two points and one rebound in ten minutes. His plus/minus was the lowest on the team, at -9. Still, Calipari insists this team will need him down the stretch.

“Here’s what I told Hami, just so everybody knows,” Cal said afterwards on the postgame show. “I said, Hami, we need you to do what I want this team to do. I’m not — you’ve understand, I’ve got to win the game. If someone’s playing better than you, I’m leaving them in. If you look a little confused, I’m taking you out. but you have to keep working to play great. And it may take another week or two. We need you to do this.”

The second half was the best we’ve seen since West Virginia

Kentucky’s regression a few weeks ago was troubling to say the least, which is why it was so refreshing to see them play coherent basketball in the second half. The fundamentals that have perplexed this squad so often this year were their biggest strengths in the second half. The ball movement was better (thanks, Jarred Vanderbilt!), the defense around the basket was better, guys weren’t afraid to fire away from the outside, and the Cats dominated the boards 46-29. As Cal would say, what?? There’s no denying that tonight was the best Kentucky’s played since coming back vs. West Virginia — or maybe all season —  a testament to their newfound crisp, confident attitude.

Kevin Knox was more consistent

Kevin Knox has a bad habit of disappearing in games, but tonight, he contributed 11 points in the first half and 12 points in the second. A 30-second span in the second half shows you just how important Knox is to this team. With twelve minutes to go, he hit a jumper to tie the game, grabbed a huge rebound off an Arkansas miss, and laid it up to give Kentucky the lead for good. We’ve said it all season, but for Kentucky to be its best, Knox must score consistently.

PJ Washington earned his flexes

With Nick Richards struggling to contain Daniel Gafford down low, Kentucky needed someone to step up and be physical in the post. PJ Washington answered the call. Calipari has begged PJ to take leadership of this team throughout the season to no avail, but the freshman was Kentucky’s most efficient player tonight, registering a +24 in plus/minus. He had 13 points (6-10) and 10 rebounds off the bench, along with 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. For Kentucky to keep building momentum, PJ cannot revert. Not even an inch.

That flex to give Kentucky the lead late in the first half said it all:

Jarred Vanderbilt’s becoming a game changer

A month after his debut, Jarred Vanderbilt has knocked off the rust to become the dynamic playmaker Kentucky needs, but not in the way you’d expect. Vanderbilt gives the Cats two things they desperately need: good passing and rebounding. Watching him run the floor and look ahead to deliver the ball to the open man is a thing of beauty. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal in 19 minutes. To whatever extent Vanderbilt disrupted Kentucky’s flow a month ago, the team is better off with him now that he’s settled into his groove.

Hello, momentum

Does this win mean Kentucky is over its growing pains? Certainly not. I fully expect more face plants before all is said and done; however, it is a big step in the right direction. Kentucky now has a path to the double bye in the SEC Tournament, which is more important than ever. After the game, Calipari said the four-game losing streak was the best thing to happen to this group because it made them confront their issues and band together. Nothing is better for a young team than a little momentum, and after back-to-back wins, Kentucky finally has some; how will they carry it over to Saturday’s rematch with Missouri in Rupp Arena?

Time will tell, but man, I feel better about it after that win. Phew, what a day.


Calipari says the losing streak was the best thing that could happen

Kentucky’s recent four-game losing streak was brutal to watch as fans of the Wildcats; however, John Calipari sees a positive in it, in how it got his team moving in the right direction.

“You got a team full of young players that have to go through experiences — good and bad,” Calipari said in his postgame interview. “You cannot talk about them. They have to experience them.”

“The best thing to happen to this team is losing four in a row. It wasn’t good to me because I’m older now and I don’t take it as well. But they needed that.”

Calipari also reminded us Jarred Vanderbilt is still new to the team, which set them back a bit in their chemistry and development as a group. Cal said he sat them all down last week to identify each player’s new role now that he’s seen his full roster in action, and it has since limited a lot of the confusion.

“The second thing is, we added Jarred. So here we are, a young team trying to experiment and figure out how we’re playing, and Jarred joins us. What ends up happening is, we were discombobulated. So about a week ago I sat everybody down and told them what their role is, especially Jarred. And I told them who we’re playing through and how we’re playing… so now there’s not as much confusion on the court.”


© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

WATCH: Highlights from Kentucky’s Impressive 87-72 Win at Arkansas

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

See the best of the best from Kentucky’s blowout road victory over Arkansas, their sixth straight over the Razorbacks.


Kentucky Climbs in the SEC Standings

Kentucky Climbs in the SEC Standings

How time changes things.

Only a few days ago, Kentucky was facing a worst-case scenario: Wednesday night at the SEC Tournament.  After two straight wins, a best-case scenario double-bye to Friday is within reach.

Kentucky is now just 3.5 games back from the top of the SEC.  If Florida falls at Tennessee tomorrow, the Cats will move into the the top four of the SEC standings if they can split the season series with a victory over Mizzou ar Rupp this Saturday.

(Click to Enlarge)


John Calipari has his best group

John Calipari has his best group

It took 28 games to find it, but John Calipari has his best five.

For the Cats to make some noise in the weeks ahead, it’s clear the majority of the minutes need to go to Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox, PJ Washington and Jarred Vanderbilt. Coincidentally, those five players led the team in points and minutes in the most impressive win all season, and three of the five came off the bench to start the game.

If that is the winning bunch moving forward, it relegates starters Hamidou Diallo, Wenyen Gabriel and Nick Richards to reserve roles, along with Sacha Killeya-Jones. Each of those players can and will pitch in on any given night, but it’s time everyone accepts they’re on the second tier of contributors. The other group just looks better when on the floor together.

You can look to the emergence of Jarred Vanderbilt as a big reason Kentucky has looked good in its last two games, and he is the final piece to the puzzle. Vanderbilt is the team’s best rebounder and maybe its best passer, and he is finally scoring the basketball, too. He reached double figures in scoring the last two times out.

Then there’s the steady hand of Quade Green, who has proven the offense goes stale when he isn’t on the floor. For all Shai Gilgeous-Alexander brings to the backcourt — and he brings a lot — the offense needs Green with the ball in his hands to be at its best.

Kevin Knox’s importance needs no explanation, and now PJ Washington is playing up to his potential. Washington recorded the second double-double of his career in the win at Arkansas; his only other one came in the second game of the season, many months ago.

Assuming you believe Kentucky is better with this five leading the way, does it change your expectations?

The team we saw at Arkansas looks to be more than capable of making a big run in the postseason.


© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

Kentucky Turns Slow Start Into 87-72 Blowout Win at Arkansas

© Nelson Chenault | USATSI

In a game that featured 12 ties and nine lead changes, Kentucky used a 13-2 second half run to turn a back-and-forth battle into a blowout at Bud Walton Arena.

It looked like it was going to be a long night for the Wildcats.  Moments after the ball was tipped, the Cats were in an 11-0 hole.  Kentucky found a way to claw back and enter the locker room with the game tied at 43.

Kentucky’s second half was all about excellent defense and unselfish offense.  After surrendering eight first half three-pointers, they held Arkansas to just one in the second half.  A team that struggled to get assists earlier in the year, had 10 assists in the second half on 15 made field goals.

Kentucky extended the lead to 13 with 6:50 to go and never looked back.  Kevin Knox led all scorers with 23 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 18 points and P.J. Washington added 13 points.

The 15-point victory gives UK another Quadrant One win and keeps the Cats in contention to get a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.  


Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

At The Half: Kentucky 43, Arkansas 43

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas got off to a great start with an 11-0 lead, but Kentucky clawed back to play the Razorbacks tight for the rest of the half. It’s all tied up at the break with a lot of entertaining basketball ahead.

Come get your first half stats:

 


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Five Things Kentucky Fans want to see vs. Arkansas

1. Diallo’s Resurgence

The long-awaited return of Diallo will happen when we least expect it, OR it could happen against a team that suits his playing style, like Arkansas.  The Razorbacks love to play fast in transition, as does Diallo.  The Razorbacks will play extremely physical, as does Diallo.

The slumping shooting guard does not need to make a ton of shots to play a significant role against Arkansas.  If Diallo hits just one shot to get his confidence back, his length on defense can create game-changing turnovers that turns into Kentucky offense.

2. No Knox Disappearing Act

There was a 40-minute stretch between the Alabama and Auburn games that Knox did not score a point.  That just can’t happen.  Even if his shot isn’t falling, Knox must remain aggressive.

3. Consistent Quade

Quade Green was probably the most important player on the court against Alabama.  When the ball was in his hands, the offense had a flow fans had not seen in weeks.  He made open shots (5-6), found open teammates (4 assists, including a late dagger) and had zero turnovers.  For Kentucky to continue to improve late in the season, Quade needs to be a consistent presence on the court.

4. Made Layups

Kentucky missed approximately 43 layups against Alabama.  They only got 20 second chance points out of 20 offensive rebounds.  Kentucky is one of the 25 best offensive rebounding teams in the country, while Arkansas is in the bottom 100 in defensive rebounding percentage.  Jarred Vanderbilt, P.J. Washington and Nick Richards need to turn easy second chance opportunities into points to get a crucial quadrant one win in SEC play.

5. A Kentucky Win

There’s no team more fun to beat in the SEC than Bud Walton’s Woo Pig choir. Go Cats.


Arkansas' Daryl Macon (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

10 Things to Know About Arkansas

Arkansas’ Daryl Macon (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

We’ve still got plenty of time until tip-off (last 9 p.m. game of the season!), so let’s spend it getting to know about Kentucky’s foe tonight, the Arkansas Razorbacks.

1. They’re part of a massive tie for third in the SEC

Arkansas is one of four teams with an 8-6 record in the SEC right now, but due to tiebreakers, they’d draw the fifth seed if the SEC Tournament started today. Kentucky’s currently slated to be a seven seed, but a win tonight would keep them in the race for the all-important double-bye (for more on that, check out BTI’s post from earlier.)

2. They’ve won four of their last five by double-digits

After losing to LSU for the second time this season, Arkansas rallied to win four straight, beating South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and No. 21 Texas A&M at home by an average margin of 15.8 points.

3. They beat Texas A&M by 19

One week after beating Kentucky by 11 in College Station, No. 21 Texas A&M lost to Arkansas by 19 in Fayetteville. The Aggie frontcourt that pushed Kentucky around in the post couldn’t stop Daniel Gafford, Arkansas’ three-time SEC Freshman of the Week winner. Gafford avenged a terrible performance vs. A&M earlier this year with an impressive 18-point outing off 7-8 shooting. He’s shooting 62.3% from the floor, which is fourth among all freshmen in the country.

4. Gafford has 54 dunks this season

I wrote a whole post about that earlier today, but it’s worth repeating that Gafford has more dunks that four teams in the league. Containing him will be a major test for Nick Richards tonight.

5. The guy with the streak in his hair is still there

Jaylen Barford, aka the guy with the white streak in his hair, leads the Razorbacks in scoring with 18.6 points per game. Not only does he rank first in the SEC in three-point field goal percentage (44.6%), he’s second in points per game and fifth in overall field goal percentage (48.9%).

6. They start four seniors

Gafford’s the only player in Arkansas’ starting lineup that’s not a senior. Barford, Daryl Macon, Anton Beard, and Dustin Thomas round out the Razorback’s starting five, and the backcourt duo of Barford and Macon is especially deadly. The two combined for 61 points in Arkansas’ upset over No. 19 Tennessee back on December 30, and the Razorbacks are 6-0 when the two both score 20 or more points in the same game.

7. Barford and Macon are the most accurate three-point shooters in the league

Barford and Macon are first and second in the SEC in three-point field goal percentage, with 44.6% and 43.4%, respectively. As a result, the Razorbacks are the most efficient three-point shooting team in the SEC, averaging 40% from behind the arc.

8. None of their seniors have beaten Kentucky

Kentucky hasn’t lost to Arkansas since February 27, 2014, meaning all the players from that team are gone. Since then, all we’ve done is win, win, win (win, win).

Date Game Result Score Notes
3/12/2017 (#8) Kentucky vs. Arkansas W 82 – 65 SEC Tournament Championship (at Nashville, TN)
1/7/2017 Arkansas at (#6) Kentucky W 97 – 71
1/21/2016 (#23) Kentucky at Arkansas W 80 – 66
3/15/2015 (#1) Kentucky vs. (#21) Arkansas W 78 – 63 SEC Tournament Championship (at Nashville, TN)
2/28/2015 (#18) Arkansas at (#1) Kentucky W 84 – 67

Interestingly, because only one of those games took place in Bud Walton Arena, the Razorbacks can still claim a 3-1 record vs. the Cats in the last four games in Fayetteville.

9. They’re 14-1 at home this season

Their only home loss is a fluky 21-point drubbing by LSU back on January 10.

10. Mike Anderson still doesn’t like John Calipari

He might not ever come out and say it, but Anderson’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them postgame handshakes with Calipari over the years indicate some deep-seated resentment. From 2016:

And 2017:

If Anderson can’t knock off Calipari and Kentucky this season, he might just strangle him with his pocket square.