Following Kentucky’s first loss in Las Vegas, John Calipari and his players discussed the team’s shooting woes. Ashton Hagans said the team hadn’t “100 percent” found their offensive identity, while Coach Calipari said “I don’t have the answer. I wish I did.”
After the Cats’ second loss in Las Vegas, it seems Calipari has come up with some answers. The solution? It could start with a single word.
“I was trying to get them to just say one word in your mind when you go to shoot it – straight, straight, straight,” Calipari said. “Because if you’re thinking ‘straight,’ you can’t think ‘I’m going to miss this, too.'”
Calipari went on to say it doesn’t have to be the word “straight,” specifically. It can be any word that gets that individual player in the right mindset to make shots – “Maybe it was a high school team you got 40 against. [Say] ‘Saint Alysosis’ and then shoot it,” Cal suggested. The important thing is simply getting in the frame of mind to put the basketball through the hoop, even if the first few shots didn’t quite hit the mark.
“Because of the mentality of shooting, you cannot be afraid if you miss one or two, then pass on the next three, because you kill your team,” Calipari said. “But if I miss five in a row I’m embarrassed. Excuse me? Get in the gym then. The one way [to get better] is to get in the gym and master your craft.”
Even when he suggests his players need to get in the gym, Kentucky’s head coach isn’t implying they aren’t already putting up enough shots in practice. In fact, Calipari said “we made 50 threes” in practice on Saturday. Unfortunately, his team was far from that mark once it actually counted. Against Ohio State, the Cats were 7-23 (30 percent) from behind-the-arc, which – although still pretty average – was a vast improvement from their 2-17 (11 percent) outing against Utah earlier in the week.
Still, a lot of that improvement can only be attributed to Nate Sestina’s hot hand, as he finished with five successful three-pointers against the buckeyes. Players not named Nate Sestina (Hagans, Maxey, Quickley, Whitney and Juzang, to be exact) were still 2-15 (13 percent) from deep.
The Cats shot slightly more “straight” from the field against OSU than they did against Utah, connecting on 42 percent of their field goals against the Buckeyes compared to 41 percent against the Utes. When asked about the team’s necessary improvements, the Cats’ point guard didn’t call out shooting specifically, but sharing the ball is definitely a big part of it.
“I would just say just coming together more, having each other’s back more, helping each other out,” Ashton Hagans said of the team’s top priority right now. “But other than that, I think we’re getting it. Everyone’s getting their role coming into it, but obviously also we’ve just got to start sharing the ball. That comes with getting closer on and off the court. But it’s just small things right now.”
One of those “small” things Calipari is honing in on now is creating – and emphasizing – more assists. While the Cats recorded 17 Saturday night, Coach Cal pointed out “there could have been three more assists in the last four minutes… And it would have been, like, a good night.”
“But I’m not spending much time on it. We’re just taking a lot of shots and we chart every shot,” Calipari added. “And at some point you say: fall back on your training. You made 60 in five minutes; you made 67 in five minutes [in practice]. You can’t make them when you’re wide open? But I think I’ve got a good shooting team. Thank goodness for Nate today.”
If the Cats want to keep improving, now and come late February and early March, they’ll be thankful for Sestina’s long-range abilities. But they’ll also need to get a few more “straight” shots from the rest of the roster, too.