Coach Cal was available for questions today before his team takes off for Atlanta and →
Coach Cal was available for questions today before his team takes off for Atlanta and the hottest topic of discussion was that mysterious tweak he made to the offense that he claims “changed everything.”
Of course, he wouldn’t reveal the big adjustment but he did say it changed the way his team thinks and what they’re trying to do offensively. Some of you will see the change Friday night, others won’t even notice it, he says.
“If you know anything about basketball, you’ll know exactly what I did,” Calipari told reporters. “If you don’t know anything about basketball, you’ll read everyone’s tweets and their blogs and say, ‘What is he saying they did? Because I don’t know basketball.’”
Whatever it may be, it is making a big difference, according to Cal. He said there was a different feel in the building after yesterday’s practice and the tweak, along with more physicality on both ends, brought something out of them he wanted to see.
“It was very clear when you saw it,” he said. “I’m just disappointed in me that I didn’t do it earlier. Why didn’t I catch this and why wasn’t I thinking in those terms?”
So why did it take so long to figure out?
“I have no idea,” he admitted. “I was just sitting at home on Sunday and it popped in my mind and I said, ‘You know what, let’s do it. Let’s do this.’”
This is either the greatest post-regular season adjustment in the history of basketball or Cal is dragging us along as he gets his team ready for the tournament. Either way, it is causing quite the headache as we all try to decipher his comments and figure it out. Only at Kentucky would an offensive “tweak” consume our lives the way this one has over the past 24 hours and we still have a few more days before we see it in action.
A “tweak,” people. We’re losing our minds over a tweak. We’re crazy.
(click to enlarge)
It’s been a rough few weeks in the Big Blue Nation, so much so that the happiest time of the year for Kentucky fans once again feels like a cruel joke. I spent some time this afternoon thinking about this roller coaster of a season, and how it’s affected the fan base’s psyche. I charted the biggest moments of the year (not including all the games because of space), and how I, as a fan, felt after each one.
The world would be a pretty boring place if we all thought the same thing, so I’m sure you may disagree on some, and if so, please share your opinions in the comments section (like you need the encouragement).
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©6:19 pm
John Calipari is currently talking to Tom Leach on his weekly call-in show, and started the show off by telling Tom and listeners about a small change he made in practice today that he thinks has “changed everything”:
“Sometimes it’s pride that steps in the way when you’re coaching, sometimes you just get blinded. We tweaked the offense a little bit, and it was a small tweak, something that I should have done a month ago, but the energy in our building, I’m jacked. Like, I am ready for us now to take the next step.”
Cal refused to go in specifics, but said that “the players left like bouncy and talking, and it was something I should have known better to do, and I apologized to the team. I’ve done this twenty some years, what in the world was I thinking? It just changed everything.”
The Cats practiced two and a half hours this afternoon, with football pads and helmets on to amp up the physical play “so we can foul and take the fouls.” He’s not putting up with fatigue either, telling players “If you can’t make it through the whole practice, you will not start.” For the record, everyone made it through the whole practice, and they’re gearing up to do the same thing tomorrow.
Hey, I’ll take it.
(Photo © Kim Klement)
For about five minutes, it looked possible. Kentucky came to life at the 17 minute mark in the second half, going on a 15-0 run to cut it to as close as 6 with 12 minutes left. From there, they tried to keep it respectable, but Florida was just too good, powering past the Cats to win by 19, the second-largest margin of defeat of the Calipari era.
Five minutes of life
I won’t even bother going over the first half. It sucked. Kentucky played the same lifeless, timid basketball they have the past three games, and during halftime, I think a good chunk of fans didn’t think they’d get off the mat. However, they did, cutting a 21-point deficit to six with 12:25 remaining.
What was the key to the run? While I choose to believe it was GIFs of cats wearing socks and bacon, Calipari said it started with Alex Poythress’ defense. “If Alex wasn’t in the game, we could have lost by 50.” In those five minutes, Kentucky held #1 Florida scoreless, and dare I say it, it looked like the light had gone on. However, after a timeout, Scotty Wilbekin nailed a three and even though the Cats hung in there for about ten more minutes, Florida responded to every challenge. That’s what good teams do.
Florida really is just that good
Coming into to this game, I was a little skeptical that Florida was capable of winning the national championship. After seeing them dismantle Kentucky today, I am completely convinced. On Senior Day, with the SEC rival in the house, Florida did what an excellent team does: rise to the occasion. Seniors Patric Young, Casey Prather, and Scottie Wilbikin combined for 46 points, and although it sounds a bit sad, I think this Kentucky team should have a small bit of pride in holding them scoreless for five minutes. Unfortunately, the first half was “embarrassing” (Cal’s words and mine), and ultimately, Kentucky dug themselves a hole too big to get out of.
Dakari will start from now on
The only leader this team has right now is Dakari Johnson, and he didn’t even start the game. That will change. After the game, Cal said that from now on, Dakari will start because “he’s the one kid who has fun and plays that way.” Dakari had nine points and five rebounds in 20 minutes this afternoon, and helped spark that big run with both points and emotion. At this rate, I’d take a team full of Dakari’s, even if the guard play and foul shooting would suck.
After hurting his knee, Julius went to work
Towards the end of the first half, a scoreless Julius Randle went down with what appeared to be a knee injury, but after being tended to on the sideline, went back in and actually went to work. Julius finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, his 18th double-double of the season, and played with purpose, kicking it out when he needed to, and cleaning up around the rim. I’m not sure what happened when Julius jammed that knee, but it worked. For Kentucky to have any kind of shot at anything, they need more of that.
Is that run enough to save a season?
A question many of us are asking after today’s game is whether or not Kentucky’s five minutes of life was enough to save the season. Was the fight that they showed enough to keep you believing? I think most of us leave the game feeling about the same as before: doubtful, but desperately optimistic. However, the players say they still believe:
“We’ve got to get this thing. We don’t know what we’ve got to do but we’ve got to get going,” Julius told reporters after the game, “As guys in the locker room we all still believe, but there’s a point where, you know, we have to put it into action and I still think we will.”
“I know a lot of people don’t believe that we can do it right now, but it’s on us right now,” Dakari added. “We just have to believe. If we believe that’s all that matters.”
Calipari was proud of his team for fighting back, but seemed discouraged that it was all for moot. Cal said the Cats killed themselves in the first half, and even though they played great for “five, ten” minutes in the second half, they made some really poor decisions down the stretch: “You’ve got your chance and we come down and then all of a sudden, take two of the worst shots we’ve taken all year. But that’s what freshmen do,” Cal lamented. ”It’s time to win now. With eight minutes left, you just don’t take those kind of shots.”
For this team, Cal admits the SEC Tournament is important
It’s no secret Cal is not a fan of conference tournaments. In years past, his teams have been good enough that they’ve only mattered for seeding. However, after the game, Cal admitted that this season, it’s important for many reasons, the biggest being confidence:
“For this team it’s important (because) we got to get the mojo going a little bit and we got to do it there. Historically my teams have done well in tournaments but we just have to see.”
To be continued…
Photo © Mark Zerof
With two straight losses and the national media circling like sharks, Kentucky desperately needed a win tonight. They got one, even if it was ugly, and with it, locked up the second seed in the SEC Tournament. Here are my eight notes…
Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson scored the first six points of the game
In fitting fashion, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson scored the first six points of the game with threes on their first attempts, bringing the Rupp Arena crowd to its feet. Hood was feeling it, jacking up threes and hustling for loose balls left and right. He even got off this freak shot at the shot clock buzzer, which should have counted, but didn’t:
After the game, Cal called Hood and Polson two of the most beloved players he’s coached at UK, along with Darius Miller. Cal was particularly proud of Hood’s journey at Kentucky over the past five years:
“I mean, this kid, I’d like to be around him all day. Those first two years were so hard and so tough on him. It’s like he said at the end of last year, I hated everybody. I hated you, coach. Now I have fun every day. I want to be coached. I’m better. I’m the best I’ve ever been as a player.”
Could Hood return as a graduate assistant?
The nightmare continued in the first half
Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson may have been ready to play, but the rest of the Cats stumbled out of the gate per usual. Kentucky shot an atrocious 24% from the field in the first half, and an even colder 14% from behind the arc. It was truly ugly basketball, but despite Kentucky’s poor shooting, they never trailed by more than four in the first twenty minutes.
UK’s young players looked so bad that Jimmy Dykes said that only Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein are capable of playing for an NBA team right now. Brad Nessler went a step farther, saying of UK’s freshmen “If they think they’re ready for the the NBA, they’re kidding themselves.” Ouch.
A frosh called Wanda
James Young debuted a new hairstyle this evening, which KSR live blogger Justin Williams immediately and accurately compared to Wanda Sykes’. And that, my friends, is how nicknames are born. Wanda had another rough night, making only 1-11 shots from the field, but as Cal pointed out, the one he made was pretty big–a three to put UK up by six with four minutes left. At the line, James was a swish called Wanda (#puns!!!), shooting a crisp 6-7 from the line.
Can we all give Dakari Johnson a round of applause?
Yet again, Dakari came in and injected the Cats with energy, putting an exclamation mark on UK’s 15-2 run early in the second half with a dunk off a missed rebound. Dakari was 4-4 from the field for nine points and five rebounds, and most importantly, watching him play was the first time I’ve had fun watching Kentucky play in over a week. Dakari’s energy seemed to revive the Cats, who seemed looser for the rest of the half. Dakari also had a crucial basket to give the Cats a three-point lead with 4:35 left. Calipari called his performance “outstanding,” and said the big freshman “did some great stuff to get baskets for us when we needed it.”
Steve Zahn took the Y to a different level
There were apparently karate kicks involved. Take that, Peeta Mellark.
Cal is back to being Cal
After the game, Cal was asked about his hip and admitted that it’s been bothering him a bit, but “I’m fine. I got no excuse. I’m just a negative guy,” he joked, falling into a fit of laughter. The same reporter asked if he was on pain medications at the moment, getting a round of laughs from the media room. Cal said that he tried taking pain pills for four days straight to sleep better and didn’t like how it affected him, so he’s off them now, but he needs to get his hip replaced.
Pain pills or not, Cal was on a roll after the game, poking at the media about all the drama after he skipped the presser in South Carolina and the rumors that he’s leaving Kentucky. Cal said he first heard the rumor he was heading to the NBA after this year from his secretary, who saw it all over ESPN. All because he missed a press conference. “Because of that, all of a sudden, I am leaving, they name my successor, and I’m the meanest person ever,” Cal joked with Tom Leach.
Dancing Guy and new Dancing Guys had an ESPN Dance Off
It’s just not the same without “Mony Mony.”
“Just win and march on”
At this point, who knows which Kentucky team we’ll see against Florida. From now on, I’m rolling with no expectations. Kentucky’s performance tonight didn’t inspire a lot of hope for the big run we all dreamed of in March, but at least they rallied to take the lead and finished the game. There are so many weaknesses–poor shooting, no flow on offense, inability to beat a zone–but as Cal put it after the game, the best we can hope for is to “just win and march on.”
Saturday’s 72-67 loss to South Carolina was one of the more difficult UK games that I can ever remember watching. It wasn’t just that the team played poorly, although it surely did, with one of the worst shooting performances that I can ever remember. And it wasn’t just that it low to one of the worst teams in a BCS conference in America, a group that took a 18 point loss earlier in the year to Manhattan on this very same court. No it was more than that…what made Saturday so painful was watching a team that could do so much more, fall so short of where they should be.
Let’s be clear. We all are guilty of overhyping this team, myself included. From day one this group was considered to be one of the best recruiting classes ever assembled and it was the thought of EVERYONE that this team was going to be special. Yes, there were a select few that went to the extreme and expected 40-0 (although this group is very small and includes only Gregg Doyel, Ryan Lemond and the occasional excited fan). But what many more believed (as did I) is that this was a group ready to impose its will on college basketball. With all of the talent assembled on one team, it was assumed that Kentucky would be at or near the top all year and would be one of the premier 3-4 teams going into the tournament, likely the favorite to win #9 in Dallas. Anything less than a dominant season was not only not expected, it was rarely even considered. Even the most pessimistic of announcers (say Doug Gottlieb) put Kentucky only as low as #7, because in the end, everyone bought the hype.
Obviously we were all wrong. But there is nothing that can be done about that now. This team is what it is and the hype that was put on by media, both national and local, fans and the coach himself, cannot be undone. But what can change is the way this team plays for its final few games. The reality is that the expectations of this team have burdened and weighed down this team all year. Most have focused on those expectations from the preseason hype and that is part of the equation, but it isn’t all of it. There is a burden that comes from the fans who have expected these young men to be saviors (“Keep Calm the Twins are Coming.” There is a burden from the families and friends of these players who have been pointing these kids to a future where they play basketball for money since their early high school years. There is the burden from the NBA scouts and draft boards that have projected all of these players as the best in America and as they have struggled, have anticipated their fall in mock drafts. And there is a burden from the players themselves, who are seeing struggles that they have never before endured and questioning why it has happened while putting pressure on themselves to change immediately. All of those burdens have weighed on this team heavily and have sapped much of the joy out of the process.
But in addition to all of these forces, the high expectations and pressure from the coach and program have surely played a role as well. John Calipari has wanted this team to be special from day one. He could taste the potential this team had and he wanted it for them more than almost anything. His energy and enthusiasm (at one point saying he was “coaching like a 35 year old”) has been ubiquitous, as he has attempted to will this team to success during the difficult stretches. I have watched Calipari all five years here and I have never seen coach, cajole, yell, cheer and teach more during the course of a season than this one. He has hoped that by micro-managing the team from the start and during games, he can somehow make them reach their potential and hit the special level that he envisioned from day one. He wants it for THEM more than anything and he is trying harder and harder to make it happen, even as it seems to slip farther from his grasp.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, this strategy simply hasn’t worked. Rather than willing the team to victory, Kentucky has played like a group of youngsters with an overwhelming weight on their shoulders that they can’t shake. You can’t watch this team without becoming struck by the fact that the players are not only not having fun, they seem always waiting for impeding doom to strike. Why is this happening? Well I am not around the team enough to know for sure but it probably is a combination of the burden of expectation, the personal pressure the players place on themselves (especially the Harrison Twins) and the struggles the team has taken during moments of adversity. And while all of these are part of it, I also think John Calipari’s coaching style is currently playing a role in it as well. During games, when the players make a mistake they immediately look toward the bench to see how the coach will react. The coach’s reactions, occurring because of his intense desire to win and make his players reach their potential, instead may be making the players even more tense and more likely to make errors that will cause even more loud reactions. It is a vicious cycle not easily broken. Calipari being thrown out of a game for the first time four years is not a coincidence, it is a symptom of a tension that has been building for quite some time.
With eight minutes to go last night however, things changed a bit. After Calipari’s ejection, the game seemed certainly lost and the players switched their approach and began playing in a different manner. In fact, for those eight minutes, Kentucky looked like the team we saw this summer and fall in the workouts that had everyone so giddy about the Wildcats’ potential. They ran up and down the floor, played loose, made mistakes but then quickly recovered without lingering bad effects. After a turnover, a steal could be made. After a missed shot, a quick defensive stop. Each mistake wasn’t met with dread but was quickly discarded in their minds. And miraculously, shots began to go down, confidence increased and they very nearly made an epic comeback for the ages.
John Calipari has forgotten more about basketball this week than I will ever know. So it is ludicrous for me to suggest anything in terms of Xs and Os as it pertains to this UK team. I also think Calipari is the perfect person for this job and has done more for the University and the program in the last five years than I would have ever imagined. I want him to retire at this school and establish a run for the ages in Lexington. But from a psychological, instead of a basketball perspective, it seems to me that with this particular team maybe Calipari should adopt a different strategy this week. Turn down the intensity a bit, retreat from coaching like a 35 year old and instead let the players play without the worry of what their coach’s reaction will be. If the players make a mistake, let them play through it. If they do something mind-numbing, let them realize it without having it screamed at them. It is not that the intense approach doesn’t ever work (it does) but with this group at this time, dealing with the crazy expectations put upon them has made it not work now. So it is time to try something different.
A couple of years back, my time at KSTV ended and I was faced with a crossroads in my career. I had been let go at CBSSports.com a year before and my time at KSTV had been rocky at best. I looked in the mirror and said, why is this happening? I realized that I had to change how I approached things…the method of red-hot intensity and constant pressure to succeed had been crucial to building KSR, but it was also causing difficulties in the work environments that had been created. If I was going to reach my goals, I had to change my approach and alter how I treated people on a daily basis. By changing myself, spreading myself less thin and treating people better, I reach my full potential and get the best out of those around me. I did and the website, radio show and KSR as a whole flourished. What had worked before had to change and I needed to adapt.
Kentucky goes Saturday to Florida to play the #1 team in the nation in a game that no one expects them to win. There will be no pressure beyond that self-inflicted because there won’t be one person in the country assuming they can get the victory. So why not come out and do things completely differently? Let the players play free, attempt to have fun and tone down the intensity just a tad. IF they make a mistake, let them go and see what they can do without the red-hot pressure that this season has given them. No one will believe in them, but so what. As long as they do and have the freedom of the ability to fail, then who knows what will happen. It may not work…heck, it probably won’t work. But it might just allow the guys to have a little fun playing basketball for once and change the mindset of the team before the postseason.
Why not? At this point, what do we have to lose?
(AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
One week ago, the Cats were riding an emotional high after beating LSU in overtime. After a bumpy season, the fan base was mostly back on board the bandwagon. We wrote about the team having “the moment” when Julius hit the game winner in OT. The staff hung a picture of it in the practice facility.
A week later, all that momentum came crashing to the ground. Just about everything that could have gone wrong did tonight. A team with Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Dakari Johnson couldn’t hit a shot in the paint. Julius, the team’s leading scorer, was 1-7 from the field, missing gimmes left and right. Kentucky’s poor shooting streak went ice cold, with the Cats only hitting 26.9% from the field. Laimonas Chatkevicius, a sophomore from Lithuania who was averaging four points a game, owned Kentucky in the paint in the second half, scoring eight crucial points down the stretch. UK’s passing went from awful to atrocious, and James Young wasn’t the only offender. Kentucky did manage to outrebound South Carolina 46-28, but mostly because they were missing so many shots.
At this point, this team’s problems are all mental. Physically, they’re still one of the most talented groups of individuals to ever play together. Don’t judge these players by their performances right now–most will play in the NBA, and some will play well. But somehow, they weren’t even able to beat a team that’s lost 18 games with half of the crowd on their side. What’s the problem?
We may not need to look any further than the sideline. As the game went on, John Calipari became undone, right down to his shirt tail, and despite both Julius Randle and Orlando Antigua’s best efforts to hold him back, he was thrown out with 10:21 left. Cal being thrown out wasn’t shocking–we could all see it coming. What was most shocking to me was how the players reacted to his outbursts. Randle, the Harrison twins, and Alex Poythress all had back-and-forths will Cal throughout the game, and after the game, Calipari told Tom Leach (but not the media, more on that later) that his team played better without him.
Well, he was right. After Cal was thrown out, Kentucky went on a 14-2 run to pull to within four with 4:09 remaining. For the first time the entire game, they looked like a team, banding together, leading each other in pep talks, and giving fans hope that the nightmare would end. Step in coach John Robic said that he was proud of how the team fought, and Aaron said that at the end, the game became about pride, with the Cats “fighting, scratching, and clawing” to get the win. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, but at that rate, it was trying to use a bandaid when you needed a tourniquet.
The one thing I hope people don’t do is attack the players. Although they fell short, the banded together at the end of the game and tried to win. Cal talks a lot about them needing to be “player-driven” rather than “coach-driven,” but at this rate, it’s clear: they need guidance.
While South Carolina “sandstormed” the court (#puns!), reporters scurried back to the media room to hear the aftermath. John Calipari took radio duties tonight, leaving John Robic to face a roomful of mostly UK reporters to explain what happened. Robic gamely tried his best, sparring with Jerry Tipton as to why Cal wasn’t there (“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him.” “Why are you here?” “They told me to come in here.”), and praising the team for their late rally.
Aaron Harrison and James Young were emotional, but professional, politely answering questions and hanging onto hope for the rest of the season. “It’s frustrating to lose but coming up, we know we can do and it’s going to be a great story,” Aaron insisted. Why? How? “Because we know what we can do. We know, we talk about it. Even after the game, we just, we know what we can do and we know we’re going to make a run to have a big, great story for everyone to talk about.”
Anything’s possible, but as the team unraveled before my eyes tonight, I can’t shake the feeling that we saw something really bad go down.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. The Cats dug a hole to deep to recover from during 15:20 stretch without a bucket going through the net. It was an ugly game featuring 3 technical fouls, a Calipari ejection and 70+ free throws.
Kentucky turned it around after Calipari’s ejection. Aaron Harrison’s shots started falling and hustle took care of the rest. Erasing a double-digit deficit, the Cats made their final push in the last 30 seconds. Down seven, Aaron Harrison hit a three, James Young stole the ball and got it Julius Randle for an ‘And 1′ to cut it to one. Unfortunately Alex Poythress’ three with 6.1 seconds to go (a very good look), came up short.
The Cats looked their worst for the majority of the game but never gave up. Is there still room for optimism?
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
No way to spin it–that one hurt. With confidence riding high after an overtime win against LSU, the Cats retraced their footsteps tonight and gave Arkansas a much-needed win, losing 71-67. Let’s go over it and then get over it.
Disappointing doesn’t cover it
After the game, John Calipari was clearly disappointed in his team’s performance. If you couldn’t tell that by his slumped shoulders and flat tone, you could tell by the number of times he used the word “disappointing” (a lot). Cal said that he really didn’t expect his team to come out as flat as they did, and that it was “two steps back” for a group that seemed to have turned the corner after the LSU game. Over and over, Cal said that this was supposed to be “the fun game” for Kentucky, telling Tom Leach that because of Arkansas’ up-and-down style of play, “this should be the game you have fun in. You should look at it, and say, ‘Let’s score 90.’”
Free throws, free throws, free throws
The most telling stat of the game? Kentucky was 12-22 from the free throw line, whereas Arkansas was a perfect 16-16. After shooting above 75% from the line in the past two games, UK’s free throw shooting percentage fell to a paltry 55% tonight. Arkansas’ Coty Clarke said he thinks fatigue played a factor: “They got tired, and you could tell. They were going up there and missing.”
Whatever the problem was, John Calipari wasn’t willing to use poor free throw shooting as an excuse for the loss. After the game, Cal said that UK’s bad mark behind the arc was just one of many problems: ”We should have been up 18 at halftime. We had a couple of no-shows today.”
About those no-shows…
Cal didn’t hold back, calling out a few of his players for particularly bad play: “The thing that disappointed me today is even with the lead, we had two guys that gave up on the game. You know it because you watched and you saw. They gave up on the game.” Dakari Johnson may have been one of those players. Dakari had three points and three rebounds in eight minutes tonight, and missed three gimmes at the rim, which did not go unnoticed by Cal: “Dakari missed a bunch of one-footers.”
James was another offender. Aside from his clutch three in overtime, James was almost a liability, going 4-12 from the floor and turning it over four times. James, Aaron, and Andrew combined for a whopping 11 turnovers tonight, prompting Cal to call their play “horrendous.” In fact, Cal said some players played so poorly, he should have kept them on the bench instead of starting them in the second half. “You know what, at halftime I needed to take more guys out,” Cal said, “A couple guys shouldn’t have been in the game. They should have been backups and we should have played other people. I knew that.”
It’s okay to sub yourself, Julius
It’s a common pattern for this group: when things get bad, they revert to old habits. For Julius Randle, that’s trying to win the game all by himself. On Saturday, that worked, but tonight, Julius was just too tired. Cal said that Julius was gassed late, played too many minutes, and by now, should know to sub himself: “I’m trying to get guys to sub themselves. They just don’t get it. The longer you’re in there, you’re not going to play better, you’re going to play worse. If you’re in there for numbers, you end up missing free throws, missing shots, not getting the key rebounds. You don’t look good. You don’t only hurt yourself, you hurt your team. ”
For other players, they reverted to panic mode, and tried to make plays without thinking them through. “We had a lot of poor performances today, and a lot of it came back to ‘my emotion is tied to my performance.’”
Without Willie, it would have been even uglier
Amidst all the poor performances, Willie had one of his best games of the season, putting up 16 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist and 1 steal. Willie cleaned up and dunked around the rim, playing so well that even Bobby Knight was impressed. ”Willie tried,” Cal said. “He had a presence. This may have been a 15-18 point game if Willie wasn’t in there.” In the ten minute gap between his postgame presser and radio show comments, Cal upped that to 20 points. Well done, Willie.
We’ve gotta wash this game right out of our hair
This loss sucks, but it isn’t season-ending. It will hurt with seeding. Arkansas was a bubble team at best heading into this game, and after sweeping the Cats, they’ve got the quality wins they need to make it if they don’t fall flat. Kentucky will definitely slip, and can’t afford to make any more mistakes this season. A win over Florida would make up for tonight, but after watching this team lose in Rupp Arena tonight…well, it would be a nice surprise.
With a trip to Columbia right around the corner, Kentucky just has to get over it and move on. Right, Willie?
“Just forget it and move on. There’s not much you can do about it. There’s no reason to soak in it, just remember the feeling. It’s getting too close to crunch time. You can’t dwell on it and then do the same thing the next game because you’re thinking about the last one. Next thing you know, you’re way too far behind and there’s no return from that.”
If you haven’t yet, go check out Matt’s interview with Cal on Fox Sports
The guys are off on their roadtrip, and Matt’s interview with John Calipari was posted Thursday afternoon. It’s a bit difficult to read all of the optimism right now, but there’s some great stuff in there, including Cal talking about his future at Kentucky. Click and feel better.
The most frustrating part of tonight? After thinking that the Cats had made “the turn,” it turns out they’re just going in circles.
By Drew Franklin on ©2:00 pm
Kentucky Wildcats TV has an amazing video of Josh Fleming’s day and a half with the Kentucky basketball team last weekend. As most of you know, Josh got to live his dream of hanging out with the Wildcats thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Kentucky basketball. He was with the guys the Friday before and all day Saturday leading up to Kentucky’s win over LSU, then joined Coach Cal at the table for the postgame press conference.
Like Cal says in the video, “I’m hoping he walks away saying, ‘Wow, this is the greatest day and a half of my life.’”
The video will certainly put a smile on your face, but not quite as big as the one Josh flaunted all weekend.
The Cats reeled in their first commitment in the 2015 class this morning when 5-star shooting guard Charles Matthews announced he would be attending the University of Kentucky in front of his friends and family at St. Rita’s High School in Chicago. Let’s get to know the newest member of La Familia…
Chicago, Illinois (St. Rita)
6’6″ 172 lbs.
247Sports Composite: No. 12 overall, No. 1 shooting guard
Rivals: No. 11 overall
Scout: No. 15 overall, No. 4 shooting guard
ESPN: No. 12 overall, No. 4 shooting guard
Picked Kentucky over…
Illinois, Kansas, Michigan State, and Marquette
Although hampered slightly by an ankle injury in his junior season, Matthews is still an impressive slasher that could flourish in the dribble drive offense. Here’s what the big guys have to say about his game:
ESPN: “Matthews is a long and lean athletic wing that can get to the rim and finish on the break. In the halfcourt he is an excellent slasher from especially along the baseline where he finishes with great touch and body control and uses his length to complete plays over smaller defenders. Mathews has an excellent first step and does a great job coming off curl screens and moving without the ball. His catch and attack moves into the lane really exposes the defense and creates help situations. He is a very capable on ball defender and has a pretty good defensive feel especially in help and recover situations. Matthews also displayed the ability to be a decent perimeter shot blocker.”
Rivals’ Eric Bossi: “An explosive guard, he’s particularly good working along either baseline. Gets out in transition and is an above the rim finisher when he wants. Doesn’t fully trust his jumper just yet and will be a load with more confidence in that and his handle. Very alert passer and potential to be a big time defender.”
Scout: “His game starts with his jump shot. Matthews has a very smooth release and an excellent follow through, and he doesn’t need much space to get a clean look. He loves to dribble into his shot and is very comfortable both from behind the three-point line and medium-range. Matthews is a fine dribbler who drives to the bucket on occasion as well, but he isn’t truly an explosive athlete. That said, additional strength should help.”
Matthews played on the same AAU team (Meanstreets) as his friend and UK signee Tyler Ulis. Even more, Orlando Antigua played for Matthews’ high school coach, Gary DeCesare.
Welcome to the fam, Charles.
Last night, Calipari told Tom Leach and his radio show listeners that the picture of the Cats celebrating their overtime win over LSU would be up in the practice facility today, and it looks like he’s followed through. Check out this picture from WKYT’s Steve Moss from the Joe Craft Center of the large print, which depicts a jubilant Julius, Andrew, Aaron, and Alex.
Hopefully it will serve as a constant reminder of what happens when you put team first.
This morning we showed you a photo of Willie Cauley-Stein visiting with a boy, Wyatt, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma at UK children’s hospital. Wyatt’s father, Joe, called in to Monday’s show to tell us more about his son’s illness and what Willie’s visit meant to the family.
“He made us forget for a moment that (Wyatt) is going through cancer,” Joe told KSR about Willie’s unexpected visit. “He made him forget too, just for that brief few minutes. It was a big relief to all three of us.”
Listen to the call in the video above or catch all of today’s show in the podcast at TalkRadio1080.com.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Wyatt and his family.
(Photo by Darrell Bird, CatsPause.com)
Phew, what a game. Thanks to a beautiful floater with 3.9 seconds left in overtime, the Cats beat LSU 77-76 and avoided their second straight loss in Rupp Arena. Here are my six notes from a heck of a win:
Julius Randle saved the day
Julius Randle did not have an easy afternoon. Randle battled down low with Johnny O’Bryant, and was held to only eight points, but the last two were the most important of the game. Randle floated one in with three seconds left in overtime to give the Cats the win, and the celebration that ensued mirrored one that happened in Nashville four years ago.
Even though Randle struggled offensively, he was ole reliable on the boards, pulling down 15 crucial rebounds. Afterwards, John Calipari said he kept telling Randle to focus on rebounding even though his shots weren’t falling: “I was telling him every huddle, ‘Just get an offensive rebound to win the game.’” He did, and it did.
No LSU in the SEC Tournament, please
Give LSU all the credit. They deserved to win today. Former Kentucky Mr. Basketball Anthony Hickey could not be stopped, putting up 20 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, and immeasurable heart. Hickey fouling out in overtime is second to only Randle’s buzzer beater in the game’s crucial moments, and the junior played his heart out. After the game, Andrew Harrison sought him out and gave him a hug, and during the radio show, Cal asked the Rupp Arena crowd to give his family an ovation. Hats off to Hickey today, he made Hopkinsville proud.
Johnny O’Bryant gave the Cats fits as well, putting up 20 points and 12 rebounds, and owned the paint for the majority of the game. Like they did in Baton Rouge, Kentucky’s big guys struggled to contain him, but towards the end of the game, finally found success by trapping him. I don’t know about you guys, but I really, really hope we don’t see the Tigers in Atlanta.
Aaron used up one of his nine lives today
Yesterday, Cal told reporters that he’s nicknamed Aaron Harrison “the Cat” because of his prowess in the zone defense. Aaron used one of his nine lives up this afternoon, banging his head on the Rupp Arena floor in a nasty spill during the first half. Even thinking about it hurts. However, Aaron hopped right back up and stayed in the game, sinking two free throws and throwing himself after a loose ball. After the game, Aaron (sorry, “The Cat”) admitted that the fall “definitely hurt,” but said he knew he had to get up for his teammates:
“I was more scared than anything. It is a scary feeling falling and you don’t know where you’re falling or what you’re going to hit. I hit the ground pretty hard so I knew I just had to jump up quick. I had to get up for my teammates. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. That is not what we are about.”
Don’t worry, he took some aspirin in the locker room during halftime.
Thank God Andrew hit those free throws
With the Big Blue Nation on the brink of nuclear meltdown, Andrew Harrison sank two free throws with eleven seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. Those points were bigger than big, and made up for Andrew missing two previous wide open jumpers with a minute and a half left. Cal said that he drew up those plays for Andrew because he wanted to show his confidence in him, and although he missed them, he hit the ones that count.
James Young hit some big free throws of his own
James Young had six of Kentucky’s twelve points in overtime, including two clutch free throws. Although James wasn’t exactly on fire today (7-17 from the field, 1-4 from behind the arc), he kept Kentucky’s offense flowing when they needed it the most. Time after time, James (or rather, “Games”) has reignited the Cats’ offense, and both Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle sang his praises after the game. Randle said James getting into the paint set him up to clean up and get the win:
“That was a basketball game. James (Young) was being aggressive just like he was the whole game. He did a great job getting into the paint. If he put it on the rim, I was going to get it. They had been trying to box me out the whole game. Luckily, that one fell right into my hands.”
Did this team just have its moment?
If Anthony Hickey’s three at the end of the second half had fallen, this would have been a very different recap. Thankfully, the basketball gods clearly another buzzer beater in mind. Randle’s game winner may go down as the signature shot of his college career, and if the Cats can build on this momentum, it could be “the moment” Kentucky needs to go from good to great. All of Kentucky’s great teams in have had that special moment. Is this game, that shot, that moment for this group?
It’s up to them. With this team, it’s never been a question of can, it’s been a question of will. Cal said that he was the one that had to tell them down the stretch that they were going to win, and for this group to be great, one of them has to step up to take that role:
“You really choose how you’re going to react to situations. 100 times better than we were, but they still had the dregs of that. For me to have to say, ‘We are winning this game, we are going to win this game.’ One of them had to huddle and say that, We’re winning this. Just settle down, we’re fine.’”
That shot from Julius Randle spoke louder than words today. As Cal said, “it was a heck of a win, folks. A heck of a win.”
Last night was a fun night for fans of John Calipari reactions. The ESPN production team realized he was on a heater and kept the cameras on him all night, especially during the second half. Today we’ll reminisce on his many facial expressions and temper tantrums in this Wednesday edition of GIFs From Last Night. Enjoy…
Andy Kennedy and Bruno Mars…
For the first time this season, Kentucky was a fun-loving bunch with sustained effort and a dominating performance on both ends. Sure, the last four or five minutes didn’t go as planned, but Calipari always tells us it’s a process, and a lot of progress was made in said process tonight in Oxford. The Cats defended well, rebounded well, passed well, dunked well, brother kept well, and hit free throws to escape Mississippi with one of the best wins of the year, an 84-70 victory.
Afterward, Julius Randle said, “We know that we can do this. We can do this every game. It’s just our focus, our attention to being more into our team than into ourselves. We’ve just gotta keep building our chemistry, keep playing hard, playing with energy, having fun out there, and the results will show.”
UK got the result it wanted tonight. Let’s discuss…
Julius Randle was unstoppable.
We all knew before the game that the Ole Miss frontcourt couldn’t hang with Kentucky’s bigs, and Julius Randle took advantage of the opportunity to dominate. He didn’t need long to get it going, either. Randle recorded his 14th double-double of the season before halftime with 10 and 10 in the first 20 minutes. He added another 13 points and three rebounds in the second half to finish with a 25 and 13 night. It was the 40-minute performance Coach Cal challenged his star player to have this time last week after he played half of a game against Auburn. Cal said Randle needs to play a complete game, and it couldn’t be any more complete than it was tonight. He was a star.
James Young said they acted like the Florida loss never happened.
John Robic told us yesterday that it was nothing but positivity around the UK locker room in the days after Kentucky’s loss to Florida. James Young reiterated that point after tonight’s win, telling Mike Pratt on the postgame radio show that they’ve been acting like the Florida game never happened. Young said they set out to play with high energy tonight at Ole Miss by “slapping the floor, clapping, high-fiving and talking loud.” They did, and it produced results.
Young, though a little turnover-prone, finished with 16 points and five dimes.
Hey look, FREE THROWS!!!!
The Cats were hot from the stripe tonight, finishing the game with a season-best 90 percent from the foul line. UK hit 27 of its 30 attempts, including 19 consecutive free throws to end the game. James Young and the Harrisons were perfect at the line, while Julius Randle closed out the game with 11 in a row for a 13-of-14 night. Willie missed the team’s other two, but still hit 4-of-6 in the game. Great shooting by all.
The first half was a lot of fun.
The first 20 minutes of the game was BY FAR the most fun this team has had all season. How about this for 10 consecutive possessions in six minutes…
1. Julius Randle jumper.
2. Aaron Harrison steal and dunk.
3. Aaron Harrison missed three, Julius Randle offensive rebound, Jarrod Polson three.
4. Julius Randle dunk.
5. Aaron Harrison layup off lob from James Young.
6. Julius Randle dunk.
7. James Young dunk off lob from Jarrod Polson.
8. James Young dunk off lob from Andrew Harrison.
9. Andrew Harrison three-pointer.
10. Alex Poythress three-pointer.
That was a 23-7 run midway through the first half that put the game out of reach. Kentucky took a 17-point lead into halftime.
The Harrisons combined for 27 and eight assists.
Aaron Harrison fought to get to the bucket and his brother played well too as they combined for 27 points, 17 of those coming from Aaron.
Kentucky shot 52 percent from the field.
They’re not going to lose many games, if any, when they’re shooting at that clip. Helping out on the other end, UK held Ole Miss to 38 percent shooting from the field, leading Andy Kennedy to speak highly of the Cats’ D after the game. Kennedy also added that one of his players took too many ill-advised shots, referring to that player as “you know who.” Ill-advised is a polite way to describe some of You-Know-Who’s attempts in this one.
Marshall Henderson, Jarvis Summers and Anthony Perez did all of the scoring for Ole Miss.
Henderson and Summers have scored about half of Ole Miss’s points all season and they got a little help tonight off the bench from Anthony Perez. The three Rebels combined for 61 of their team’s 70 points with very little help — three field goals and a free throw — from their teammates. Perez scored 17 of his 21 in the second half during the comeback attempt, including that banked-in three-pointer that caused you to yell at your television. Henderson scored 12 of his 18 in the final 14 minutes of the game.
How did Henderson not get T’d up?
I know he’s Marshall Henderson and this kind of behavior is expected, but at some point you gotta T him up. This OMFG-bomb was dropped within earshot of the referee after he threw up a brick and wanted a foul — that didn’t happen.
Anyone else in America does that and it’s an automatic tech, especially after similar antics all night.
Coach Cal was on fire tonight. WHAT?! I said Coach Cal was on fire tonight.
Check KSR tomorrow for a “Faces of John Calipari” post from tonight’s game. It was one of his best showings on television and ESPN knew it.
Should we worry about the last four minutes?
Nah. Not tonight. Andy Kennedy said his team’s attempt at a comeback was helped by Kentucky boredom. Cal said his guys dropped their heads for a few minutes but showed courage late. Let’s celebrate the good times, like the first half that could fill up SportsCenter’s Top 10 and the quality road win by 14 points.
Great night. Go Cats.
So You’re Saying There’s a Chance…
For a portion of the UK fan base (the amount of that portion may be in some dispute), there is no question that Saturday night’s loss to Florida was a tipping point. Given a chance to beat a top 5 team in Rupp Arena, with the environment as raucous as it could be, the Cats struggled down the stretch and it became too much for some in the BBN to handle. While there are always crazies ready to say the sky is falling after every loss, the Florida loss also caused some reasonable folks to throw up their hands and proclaim that “all is lost” and the season is effectively over. And at least in part, that feeling is understandable. Kentucky has played eight games this year against opponents that you would count as quality opposition (either due to team strength or location of the game). By my count, Kentucky is 2-6 in those games (with wins vs Louisville and at Missouri…I don’t put Tennessee in that group because the game was at home, but it is close). That isn’t a sterling record for a team that started the year with dreams of winning #9 and thus I can certainly understand why the level of disappointment in the Big Blue Nation is so high.
With that said however, I am not ready to completely give up on the season just yet. I don’t see the Florida game as a complete and total loss as many others do. The Cats played what I think is one of the 2 best teams in the country even for 35 minutes…then it slipped away. In those 35 minutes, we saw the making of a team that can be as good as anyone in the country…but they were not able to finish the job. However very good teams can have that happen and even title teams can lose on their home floor to other very good teams (2012 UK did not, but 2010 Duke, 2011 UCONN and 2013 Louisville all lost on their home floor to a top conference team). Most of my frustration and questioning of the UK team has little do with how they finished against Florida. Yes, it would have been nice to beat the Gators, but Kentucky lost in large part because they didn’t execute and make plays, and due to a bad stretch where they let a 7 point lead go to a 2 point deficit, with three straight defensive mistakes. These are correctable errors…whether they will be corrected is another question entirely, but they can in theory be fixed.
At its core, the loss to Florida is not why we question this Kentucky team. It is the loss to Baylor, the loss to North Carolina, the loss to Arkansas, etc. Over and over, Kentucky has left home to play inferior teams and received a loss that they shouldn’t have taken. And that is why at its core, we are so negative. But luckily for UK, there aren’t many true road tests left for Kentucky to drop. Two of UK’s three remaining road games should be fairly certain outcomes…it is hard to see Kentucky winning at Florida and hard to see them losing at South Carolina. That leaves Ole Miss, a game I will get to again in a moment, as I think it is of the utmost importance. If Kentucky takes care of business in the next seven games, they can finish 6-1 and go into the SEC Tournament with a 24-7 record. If they then make the SEC Tournament final, they go into the Selection Tournament process, probably looking at a 4 seed (because the Championship game won’t be considered in the seeding process thanks to the new late start time to the tournament…3:15). If you assume that Kentucky doesn’t get put in Florida’s bracket, that likely means they would find their way into a bracket where the #1 seed is either Syracuse, Arizona or Wichita State. I don’t necessarily like the Cats chances with the Cuse (although not impossible), but is it crazy to say that Kentucky could beat Arizona or Wichita State? Not to me it isn’t.
With that said, things can go the other way too. This will be a Tournament where Kentucky could lose in the first round or make the Final Four. I firmly believe that. Think about 2011. We of course remember the great victories over UNC and Ohio State to head to Houston for the Final Four, but we often forget that Kentucky could have (maybe should have) lost to Princeton in the first round. Brandon Knight hit a running scoop layup that if he misses, causes that team to be looked at completely differently. The same fate could await this one. Look at Lunardi’s bracket today. If Kentucky opened with Toledo, then played St Louis, then Arizona and then San Diego State or Virginia, do you think that is an impossible path to a Final Four? I don’t. But is it also possible that they could get upset against Toledo and disappoint everyone? Yeah, it probably is.
When you are a great team, who you play doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. In 2012, any team in the draw except for maybe North Carolina (pre-Kendall Marshall injury) was headed for a loss. This team is different. UK’s Tournament success will depend on the draw, the matchup and their ability to make shots, all variables that mean any result could occur. That is how it is for teams that aren’t elite. I had hoped UK would be elite this year…but they aren’t. However that doesn’t mean they can’t make noise as non-elite teams such as Michigan/Wichita State/Syracuse showed last year (and Butler, VCU, etc showed in years past). What matters is that Kentucky enters the Tournament with a good psyche and hopes the draw gives them an opportunity to make a move. If Kentucky beats Ole Miss (and this is important, not just for seeding but also for keeping this team’s frame of mind in the right place), they will enter the Tournament one of 20 teams that have a shot to win four straight and get to Dallas. After that, who knows.
We wanted a UK team that would roll all year long and have us smelling #9. Saturday showcased (maybe finally) that we don’t have that team. But that doesn’t mean this is a UK team that can’t have a special March…they just need to improve, clean up their errors and hope for a little bit (maybe a lot of bit) of luck as well. While this season has left me unsatisfied, that doesn’t mean the ending will do the same…I still believe this group can do what is necessary to make a strong Tournament run…whether they will remains to be seen. Like Calipari said today, I believe this team can meet most of its preseason goals, I really do…well at least for now.