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Cats reset focus after road defeat

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Nerlens Noel had 10 points and seven rebounds in UK's 64-50 loss at Notre Dame on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Nerlens Noel had 10 points and seven rebounds in UK's 64-50 loss at Notre Dame on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari may have gotten ahead of himself.

After Kentucky returned to Rupp Arena and picked up three double-digit wins in a row, Coach Cal found himself thinking through how the Wildcats would win their next close game. With two games in three days against Notre Dame and Baylor coming up, it was logical to think that UK would be in a position of needing to know what to do in a very specific set of circumstances.

"I probably last week started working on situations too soon," Calipari said. "See, there's not a situation when you're down 15. There is no situation. There's no you're going to go five-point plays three times in a row."

At the cost of a constant emphasis on effort and energy, the Cats began working on what they would need to do on a possession-by-possession basis in a close game.

"We worked on situations and got away from the competitive spirit," Calipari said. "It just shows we're not ready to move forward yet."

As Coach Cal suggests, UK never even had the opportunity to put their work into practice against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame grabbed control of the game midway through the first half and didn't let go en route to a 64-50 victory that touched off a court-storming celebration.

Sixteen hours removed from his postgame press conference, Calipari's appraisal of the performance did not change.

"We're a November basketball team," Calipari said. "That's all I can tell you. We watched the tape. Stopped playing and didn't compete, didn't come up with 50-50 balls. Didn't play for one another; kind of separated a little bit. But it's the first road game. I knew we'd struggle but I thought we'd compete, and that's the surprising thing. We just didn't battle and it was obvious they wanted the game more than we wanted the game."

The unfortunate thing is Calipari won't have much time to hone in on the issue. Preparations for the game against Baylor at 12:30 p.m. ET in Rupp must begin immediately with the rest of the work pushed back for later.

"I wish we had nine days but we don't," Calipari said. "We have to play (Saturday) afternoon, so we're going to watch film and walk through and that's it. We can't practice. We've got a couple of days in between the Tuesday game and then we've got some time to take to really get this thing right."

What that means is it's impossible for Calipari to predict what he will see out of his team when the Cats take the floor in yet another nationally televised marquee matchup.

"It's probably not fair for these young guys, but I would rather learn right now what we have to do and get a clearer picture, and you don't get those clear pictures against bad teams," Calipari said.

Baylor may have lost two games already this season, including at home last Saturday to College of Charleston, but Calipari knows what the visiting Bears are capable of. Three players from last year's Elite Eight team were drafted, but Baylor returns Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip in the backcourt and adds a recruiting class that ranks fifth nationally according to ESPN.com, headlined by 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin, who is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.

"They're big," Calipari said. "Their guard play, Jackson, he's tremendous. They run pick-and-rolls and get up and down the court and isolations."

UK will devote some limited time to preparations specific to Baylor, but the focus leading up to Saturday's game will be demonstrating clearly the ways in which the intensity was lacking at Notre Dame and documenting the effect. Calipari, meanwhile, knows he has as much work ahead of him as his players.

"This is as much me figuring it out as it is them," Calipari said. "The one thing that they have to bring is a competitive spirit and a will to win. I'll help them with all the other stuff."

For now, a lot of the "other stuff" will have to wait.

"You gotta go a step at a time," Calipari said. "I wanted us farther and we're not ready for that. This is where we are right now. The love of learning and practice, they get that and we'll be fine."

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