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Coach Cal zeroes in on conditioning after second-half let up

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Nerlens Noel had 13 points, six rebounds, five blocks and two steals in UK's 88-56 win over Samford on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Nerlens Noel had 13 points, six rebounds, five blocks and two steals in UK's 88-56 win over Samford on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
For 20 minutes against Samford, Kentucky delivered the kind of effort John Calipari expected after back-to-back defeats. For one half, UK dominated the Bulldogs with tireless intensity.

The second 20 minutes, however, were another story. The second half is the reason why the Wildcats are going to be waking up before dawn from now until Christmas for early-morning conditioning sessions.

"Strap 'em on, boys," Calipari said.

UK headed to the halftime locker room leading 45-14. The Cats shot better than 50 percent from the field, held the visitors to 20-percent shooting, forced 14 turnovers and had nine steals.

"The way we played in the first half, we took these guys out," Calipari said. "We played, blocked shots, took charges, played - like played - basketball, competed against the other guy."

The rest of the way UK outscored Samford just 43-42. The Cats once against shot well over 50 percent from the field, but the Bulldogs shot better than 50 percent themselves while UK forced just three turnovers and had just two steals en route to an 88-56 victory.

To Coach Cal, the statistical difference between the two halves doesn't even tell the whole story. The lack of exertion he saw on the floor was particularly troubling because that very thing is the reason why his team took losses in each of its last two outings. In searching for an explanation for the second-half lapse, Calipari sees just one possibility.

"You come out for 20 minutes and you compete, then you come out the second half and you don't," Calipari said. "Then you're not in shape or you don't care. I don't want to even go that way. I don't even want to hint that way."

In light of that, Coach Cal sees just one option for how to resolve the conditioning issue.

After a day off on Wednesday, players will be summoned to the Joe Craft Center at 7 a.m. for running, running and more running. Later in the day, the team will hold its regular afternoon practice.

"We'll get (strength and conditioning coach) Ray Oliver," Calipari said. "20 to 30 minutes of straight running. Heart rates will be high. Not heart rates at 120. Your heart rate is going to be at 175, 180."

By the time players are dismissed for three days to spend time with family for the holidays, UK won't have a conditioning problem any longer. That could simultaneously solve another issue.

"Some of it may be mentally you're not strong enough, you're soft," Calipari said. "So the conditioning is good. It makes you stronger mentally."

If you ask Willie Cauley-Stein - who posted his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds on Tuesday night - the mental side is really what this is all about.

"It's all mental," Cauley-Stein said. "He's trying to get us more mentally tough. There's no way we can't be in shape. Going through offseason and even how practices are now, there's no way we're not in shape."

If Cauley-Stein is right and he and his teammates are in shape, that will certainly help come Thursday morning. That doesn't mean he's looking forward to losing sleep to pre-dawn exercise. At the same time, he knows viewing it with a sense of foreboding won't help anything.

"If you dread them then it's worse," Cauley-Stein said. "So you gotta approach it as it's going to help you. A lot of guys don't do that but you approach it like it's going to make us better and in three weeks it's going to be crazy how good we are. If you approach it in a good way then it's going to be a good outcome."

The outcome Calipari is looking for is the Cats playing a full 40-minute game. If they do that, Calipari is sure UK will look a lot more like the top-five team they were billed as entering the season.

In fact, Coach Cal sees that preseason hype as sharing in some of the blame for what happened in the second half against Samford and in the games against Baylor and Notre Dame.

"I think we all got intoxicated, including me, about everything that was written and said about this team," Calipari said. "I kept telling you, 'We're not that good.' I'm looking, 'Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we're better than I think.' Uh-uh."

As has been the case, coming to the realization that they aren't what everyone said they would be right now does not preclude the Cats from living up to the billing eventually. If they are to do that, the coming weeks will be crucial.

"We're sliding into Camp Cal time," Calipari said. "No classes, no timeframe, no four hours, 20 hours a week, none of that. It's like three practices a day. Do nice conditioning in the morning. Do practice in the afternoon. Come back in the evening and walk through and do some shooting and other things."

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Work em baby!!

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