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Cats still looking to be 'story of the year'

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Julius Mays has scored double figures in five straight games. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Mays has scored double figures in five straight games. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
A loss like the one Kentucky suffered at Tennessee on Saturday is one that might make a coach reevaluate things.

The 88-58 defeat was the largest of John Calipari's tenure as Kentucky head coach and the Wildcats had to battle just to avoid a 40-point final margin.

So, three days later, are Coach Cal's priorities or goals any different? Not so much.

"Now the issue for me as a coach is: Just keep coaching them," Calipari said. "I'm not going to change; just keep coaching them."

As long as there is still season left, Calipari is going to try everything within his power to turn the potential he's certain his team has into production. With his youngest UK team to date, he hasn't always been rewarded by his persistence. It's not that his players are willfully not following Calipari's coaching; it's that they don't have the capacity to execute all the time.

"All of a sudden: Why are you out there?" Calipari said, relaying a familiar scenario from practices and games. "I thought we were ... 'Oh, my fault.' We have more 'my faults' this year than I can tell you."

Making things even more difficult is the fact Calipari doesn't have a deep bench on which to rely. He has made a conscious decision to carry fewer rotation players in an effort to do right the kids he recruits, which presents a unique challenge.

"It's just a lack of concentration and discipline and, again, when you don't have the bench to just say, 'Boop, out, can't do it,' and force them to concentrate a little bit more, it makes it tougher," Calipari said.

Calipari's tone might come off to some as negative, but it's really a simple statement of fact - one accompanied by a reaffirmation of what he still believes the Cats can become.

"All that aside, we can make what we want of this season," Calipari said. "Whatever we want to make of this season, we can do. We could be the story of the year - of recovery and all that. We can do that if they choose to do that."

Therein lies the key: As much as he wants to, Coach Cal can't choose his team's fate.  

"It's not just about him; it's about us," guard Julius Mays said. "We gotta have belief in each other. It can't just be him having the belief. We're the guys out there playing and players make the plays. The coach can only do so much."

Along with fellow guard Jarrod Polson, Mays was one of two players Calipari singled out for showing consistent fight in UK's first game without injured star Nerlens Noel. With time running short on his college career, Mays has scored in double figures five straight games. He essentially has as much experience as the rest of his teammates combined and he took it upon himself to let his younger teammates know the effort at Tennessee was unacceptable.

"We know we gotta come and fight," Mays said. "Like I said, if anybody's not going to fight, then we don't want them to be a part of it. We need everybody that we have here and it's going to take all of us. We can't have not one player not on same page as us. I let it be known and I think guys accept it."

Heading into a home rematch with Vanderbilt (10-14, 4-8 Southeastern Conference) at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Mays knows his words only carry so much weight. After stops at three different schools, Mays has seen his share of adversity and has learned that the only true way to learn is to go through it.

"So this is good life lessons for all these guys, that everything isn't all peachy," Mays said. "You're going to have adversity in life. Things aren't going to always be like you want them to be."

A two-game February losing streak and 17-8 overall record certainly isn't what the Cats want, but there's still time to change it around. With just six games left in the regular season and the term "must-win" being bandied about, that time is beginning to run shorter now. Mays doesn't want to go too far with that talk though.

"I don't like to have the mindset of your back against the wall because when you play with that much pressure, you're liable to play bad," Mays said. "I just want guys to play with a free mind but to know that we got work to do."

That work can only be undertaken one step at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time.

"You've got to prepare yourself to play great and that means go knock out a practice, go unbelievably hard, talk to one another, have great energy," Calipari said. "In all my years, that's how you do it, there's no individual meetings or meetings so hopefully today we'll step on the gas."

After playing six of their last nine on the road, the Cats are happy they get to begin that process at home.

"We're looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd," Mays said. "We definitely want to rebound off of a two-game losing streak, so we're looking forward to a home game."

There are approximately 1,200 unsold student tickets still available for Wednesday's game against Vanderbilt. To buy tickets, call the UK Ticket Office at (800) 928-2287, the Rupp Arena Box Office at (859)233-3535 or visit TicketMaster.com. http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/16004949939849A3?artistid=838134&majorcatid=10004&minorcatid=7

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Guys, great effort against Vandy, but it has got to get better for the rest of the schedule. You guys played really well for about 25-30 minutes. You have to play well for 40+ minutes. The fans are behind you, but you have to perform, all we can do is cheer. Alex, I would love to see more, like when you dunked on the Vandy defender. I have been saying all year that I wanted to see you dunk on someone. I really don't even care if you are called for an offensive foul. It sends a message, and it is a good message. Ryan, keep being aggressive. Willie, you have got to continue to give the effort you did last night. You don't have to get 20 points every night, just give the effort. Archie, keep driving. Kyle, keep doing what you are doing, but maybe a little more aggressive. Jarred, you are doing great, but be more willing to take the shot. Julius, keep doing what you are doing. I know the shots have not been falling like you would like, but you have hit some big shots and the team needs your energy. I love what you bring to the team. Hoody, when you get the opportunity, be confident. The fans love you and we know you have the talent to contribute. Take the shots with confidence. They will fall. Continue to hustle on defense. The fans want you to do well. There is no pressure from he fans for you to do well. Relax and play. That is good advice for the entire team. Relax and play! The fans want you to have fun. When you have fun you will perform well and the outcome will be good. I know there is lots of pressure to win, but mainly the fans want you to play well and compete. We don't expect you to win every game (well, some fans do) but if you play hard and are competitive every game, the fans will be very supportive. Just know that we are behind you and want every player to do well. I'm looking forward to attending the game on Saturday. I only get to attend about 3-4 games a year, but I watch every game I can get on TV in South Carolina. Go Cats!! D.Sine 1976 grad.

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  • Dale Sine: Guys, great effort against Vandy, but it has got to get better for the rest of the schedule. You guys read more