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Calipari, Cats focusing on the little things before Boise State

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As recently as a few weeks ago, John Calipari has called his own scheduling habits into practice.

He did it both before and after Kentucky lost to Michigan State, saying the second game of the season was too early to be playing a team the caliber of the Spartans.

One game into a slate of challenging December games, Calipari isn't about to do it again, not even after the Wildcats fell to Baylor on Friday night.

"This is why we did this," Calipari said. "We knew it was gonna be hard. We knew we'd lose games. We knew."

Fans may have thought otherwise, getting wrapped up in the hype surrounding a recruiting class billed by many as the best ever before any of its members even set foot on campus, but not Calipari.

"That's not what I was thinking," Calipari said. "I knew coming to this point, they were gonna have to find each other, or we're not going to be as good as everybody thinks or I think we should be. Until they find each other, until they understand they are absolutely locked arm-in-arm with each other."

When he made the schedule, Calipari's belief was that playing five potential NCAA Tournament teams -- Baylor, Boise State, North Carolina, Belmont and Louisville -- in as many games would force the Cats to realize just how much they need each other. He still feels the same way, but Calipari isn't relying solely on games to do his work for him.

Late in the Baylor game -- when No. 11/10 UK (7-2) gave up a nine-point lead with less than 13 minutes left -- Calipari noticed the Cats were having trouble heeding his instructions to huddle before a free-throw attempt. So on Sunday, he taught them how.

"Well, how could you not know how to huddle?" Calipari said. " 'Because I never played that way. If we got fouled, I was thinking my thoughts and he was thinking his thoughts and he's thinking his thoughts.' This is all new."

The same goes for something as basic as when a player comes to the bench.

"How 'bout this: Guy comes out of the game," Calipari said. "Everybody gets up and touches the guy. Isn't that like we all played? You touch the guy, and 'Hey, you're good.' We sit and, 'Come here and touch me.' There's just things that, to become a good team, they don't know yet."

When you consider the Cats need teaching on things so rudimentary, it's less surprising their development through nine games has come in fits and starts.

"Look, the way we do it is really hard," Calipari said. "The way they've always played has been really easy. Now, which way do you want to do it? The real hard way or the easy way and every chance you can revert back to see if it still works you do? It's just how it is coaching young teams."

That young team had an additional curveball thrown at it this weekend by delay-filled travel to and from Texas. On the way there, the team's flight was delayed by more than three hours. On the way home, the Cats didn't make it back to Lexington until nearly 11 p.m. ET on Saturday due to an ice storm.

"It felt like it was a week. It was honestly terrible," E.J. Floreal said. "Just being stuck there, it was so cold. I didn't even know it snowed in Dallas or anything. It was something for me. It was awful."

The following afternoon, the Cats took the practice floor in the Joe Craft Center to address some of the issues that plagued them against Baylor. In an intense two-hour-plus session, they focused on defense, rebounding and, afterward, free-throw shooting.

"We don't have enough time to teach these guys everything they don't know or we'd have seven-hour practices," Calipari said. "So we have to narrow into what's really important for us as a team. And we can't even really worry about the next game; we gotta worry about us."

That's not easy to do considering the strength of UK's next opponent. Boise State is a perfect 8-0 and is the nation's second-leading scoring team at 91.9 points per game heading into Tuesday's 9 p.m. ET matchup in Rupp Arena.

"They shoot 3s at a high clip," Calipari said. "They run the dribble-drive better than we ran it. They spread the court with four guards. They have four guards. So somebody is going to guard a guard that's not used to guarding a guard. That's just how it is."

The Broncos -- an NCAA Tournament team a season ago -- shoot 41.3 percent from 3-point range and are led in scoring by Anthony Drmic, who is averaging 20.4 points per game.

"They're pretty good, like Coach said, and we just gotta play hard," James Young said. "We just gotta out-tough them, muscle them a little bit. We have a height advantage, so if we use all our height I feel like we'll be good."

The Cats have never been short on confidence heading into games -- particularly on defense -- but that's changed at times this year when the opponent lands a haymaker.

"You're real confident until the first shot to your nose, your eye, your chin and your ear," Calipari said. "You're not so confident anymore."

As Calipari often says, confidence is built through repeated, sustained performance. The first step toward that is by taking it seriously.

"When you take great pride in your defense and your rebounding, you have confidence," Calipari said. "You know, 'We're fine. They can make a couple crazy shots. We're fine.' We haven't built that yet. And we're just trying to get them to understand: That's the only way you build it. They've never needed it before because, 'I'm just going to do my thing and I'll be fine.' Now you have to change. So these are all habits they have to change."

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