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Coach Cal's message purposefully mixed after Vandy win

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John Calipari's Kentucky team will take on Texas A&M just two days after a 60-58 road win over Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari's Kentucky team will take on Texas A&M just two days after a 60-58 road win over Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Reduce Kentucky's win at Vanderbilt to a four-minute snapshot, and John Calipari was actually pretty happy with the way things went.

Alex Poythress made two big free throws. Kyle Wiltjer hit a crucial midrange jumper even though he had not scored to that point. Archie Goodwin had a pair of important assists even though he played a team-high 37 minutes.

The Wildcats showed some grit in pulling out a 60-58 road victory, but given the circumstances, it's difficult to focus on that part of their performance.

"There were plays that we made to gut it out, but we just gotta get better than where we are," Calipari said.

UK led by 16 points with less than 14 minutes left and had played a reasonably solid game to that point. Then, however, the Commodores began to hit some 3-pointers and went to a 2-3 zone that perplexed the Wildcats. More than seven scoreless minutes later, UK found itself trailing in a rocking Memorial Gymnasium.

"The crazy thing is I knew (Kevin Stallings) was playing zone and I went all week working on zone," Calipari said. "We worked on man-to-man 10 percent of the time. We worked on zone the whole time and that's what it looked like."

It looked like a mess.

The Cats were slow bringing the ball up the floor, which allowed Vandy to settle into the zone. The ball often slowly rotated around the perimeter and possessions ended in contested 3-point attempts. When plays were there to be made, players didn't make them. When shots were open for the taking, the Cats hesitated to take them.

"Shooters weren't prepared," Calipari said. "They didn't want to shoot so they were getting rid of it. Now, we got you that shot, you must take it. Because when you make this pass, the reason you're open is the rest of us are not in a zone."

Zone offense, unfortunately, was not the only area that had Coach Cal looking for improvement.

Vandy entered Thursday night's game having been outrebounded on the season while the Cats were in the midst of a seven-game stretch during which they had an average rebounding margin of +10.8. The statistics were flipped, as the Commodores held a 42-37 edge on the glass and pulled down 20 offensive rebounds to UK's nine. Largely because of the inability to close out possessions, the Cats' lead wasn't nearly as large as it could have been when Vandy made its run.

To Calipari, those issues begin and end with the way his team is coping with contact.

"The main thing is if you don't want any body-to-body contact, you won't win in this league," Calipari said. "You just won't. They're either going to want that kind of play, which we accepted last year, or you won't."

Less than 48 hours after they survived and got a win in spite of not responding well to physical play, the Cats will be tested again. Texas A&M (11-3, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) comes to Rupp Arena for its first matchup against Kentucky as a member of the SEC. The game will tip at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday on the SEC Network.

"Very physical," Calipari said of the Aggies. "Big, strong. Their 3-man (Elston Turner) is as good a player as we have in our league. They push the ball. They play both man and zone."

Texas A&M, however, isn't Coach Cal's primary concern right now. His priority on Friday was to give the Cats a clear picture of how they played on Friday and how they must get better.

"We had these plays at the end of the game which helped us win the game which were huge, gutty plays," Calipari said. "We didn't give up on the game. But, now let's watch this stuff. This is all effort. This is all phyisicalness. Why would you not do this? And that's what I did. I said, 'Learn from it!' I'm not mad. We won. But if we don't correct this, you're not going to win what you think you can win."

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