Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Championship loss does not erase positives from valuable trip

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
As Kentucky was preparing to depart for a four-game road trip to Portland and Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational, John Calipari warned that the inexperienced Wildcats could be facing up to three losses with the quality of competition they would be up against. Calipari's focus would be on improving his team rather than wins and losses.

Anyone familiar with UK's coach immediately wondered whether he was again underselling his team and tempering expectations with his three-loss proclamation. After racing through the opening three games of the trip and looking quite precocious in the process, it was apparent that Calipari was indeed giving his team just a bit less credit than it likely deserved.

However, in the final of the Maui Invitational, Kentucky faltered against Connecticut, losing 84-67 and looking a lot more like the team Calipari feared would struggle. Even though the game meant that UK's long trip west ended in a loss, the successes and failures Kentucky faced along the way ensure that the journey will be worthwhile as the season goes on. 

In fact, losing the way that they did in the finals may give Calipari just the kind of attention from his players that he needs to help the team improve.

In the loss to UConn, UK faced a squad that had been overlooked by some in a Maui field that featured three teams ranked in the top 11 of the coaches poll. In the Cats' opening wins against Wichita State and second-ranked Michigan State, the Huskies were led by the spectacular play of junior guard Kemba Walker, who scored a combined 61 points en route to the finals.

Against Kentucky, Walker again stepped up his game, tallying another 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Even when Walker was unable to find his own shot, he got the ball to his teammates, notching six assists.

On this night, it was that kind of unselfishness that separated the Huskies, especially in the early on.

"We had a selfish, young team in the first half," Calipari said. "Obviously I haven't done as good a job as I can because in the first half we were out of whack. They need to be coached."

Fortunately, this is still the first month of the season and plenty of time remains for coaching. With this road trip under the team's belt, Calipari now has more information about what he needs to do to transform this team from a young and selfish squad into a contender.

For instance, Calipari now knows that Kentucky has a workhorse in Terrence Jones.

After another 24-point performance in the final, Jones was named to the all-tournament team.  He repeatedly showed during this trip that when UK needs a big play, be it a bucket, a rebound, a block,or a steal, Jones is probably the best option.

However, UK also learned that life must go on when Jones is not on the floor.

After playing 36 minutes in UK's win over Washington, Jones battled first-half foul trouble. He committed his second foul on an Alex Oriahki and one that pushed UConn's lead to 29-22 with nine minutes to go in the half. Jones sat the rest of the way and UK looked disjointed offensively, committing turnovers and routinely over-penetrating into the heart of the defense without any thought of passing.

Jones will be central to Kentucky's success this season, but there will be times when he finds himself in foul trouble or an opponent effectively limits his production. In his absence, the focus must be on unselfishness and ball movement, especially at the point guard position.

Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb have predominantly run the point so far this season. Both have more of a scorer's mentality and outside shooting ability than anyone who played point guard last season, which showed its advantages in the first three wins of the trip.

This game, though, exposed just how much that mentality needs to be balanced with a willingness to share the ball and make sound decisions.

Knight and Lamb combined for seven turnovers and just five assists in the loss, something that will surely be a topic of discussion when the Wildcats hit the practice floor and film room upon their return to Lexington.

The point guards were far from the only ones Wednesday to display the selfishness Calipari referenced. All too often, players took the ball to the basket only with the intent to score, which resulted in turnovers, missed shots and only occasionally a positive result.  

That sort of mentality has an effect on all aspects of the game.

"When a guy gets passed up three straight times, is he really encouraged to defend?" Calipari asked.

That question was clearly a rhetorical one, because UK allowed 50 points on 60 percent shooting in the first half.  

The degree to which offense and defense are intertwined is often lost on a team as young as this Kentucky squad, but there is no better teaching tool than feeling the high of a win, followed abruptly by the sting of a tough loss.

This team showed an awful lot of positives on its trip, particularly in its three wins. The large contingent of Big Blue faithful that traveled along with the team got to experience those.  There were some negatives along the way, too, but Calipari put things in perspective on Twitter just after the game as he so often does.

"Not the way we wanted to end the trip obviously but we will learn from this loss and work on the things we didn't do well," Calipari said. "Overall, 3-1 on a tough trip with a young team and we now know more about where we are on the path."

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/12901

Leave a comment




Recent Comments