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Cats counting on team meeting to propel them into Mizzou matchup

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Alex Poythress called a team meeting following Kentucky's loss at LSU on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Alex Poythress called a team meeting following Kentucky's loss at LSU on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Their flight home postponed by a day due to weather and stuck in Baton Rouge, La., the Kentucky Wildcats could do nothing but retire to their hotel rooms.

But instead of sulking alone after a disappointing loss to LSU, the Cats decided to put the time to good use.

"We had a team meeting actually, a players-only meeting after the game, which we shared a lot together," Dakari Johnson said.

It was Alex Poythress who called the meeting. The soft-spoken sophomore wasn't happy with how Kentucky played and summoned his teammates via text message to talk about it.

"Everybody shared their own opinion," Johnson said. "Lot of players apologized for not giving their hardest. I think it was a real important team meeting."

It wasn't one of those fire-and-brimstone meetings where one player aired all grievances. Instead, the Cats shared the floor.

"We just went one by one," Johnson said. "A lot of people apologized and just said this wouldn't happen again."

The Cats believe the meeting was a step in the right direction. Though players took responsibility for the lack of intensity and preparedness that cost them at LSU, the tone was positive because they don't believe UK all that far off track.

"You know, all the problems are fixable," Poythress said. "It's just little mental lapses. We correct those we should be in pretty good shape."

Naturally, the team meeting became the topic du jour at the media availability No. 11/11 UK (15-5, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) held before its trip to face Missouri (16-4, 4-3 SEC) on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. John Calipari, however, wasn't having any of it. In fact, he didn't even know the meeting happened until he was asked about it on Friday.

"Don't want to know," Calipari said. "Don't want to know, don't care. Let's play. This is all about what we do on the court preparing to go to war, understanding the other team is excited to play you. That's all that this comes down to."

It's hard to blame Coach Cal for taking a wait-and-see approach. After all, there was talk of UK having turned a corner before the setback in Baton Rouge.

"(I've) never had a team this young," Calipari said. "This is the youngest team I've ever had. I wish they would have changed right away, but it's more of how they think then just trying to change sole basketball habits."

What he means is that the Cats still tie their emotional state to their own play, not the team's. If a guard misses a shot but a big man grabs the rebound and dunks it home, the guard hangs his head. If a big man isn't getting touches but his teammates are filling it up from the perimeter, the big man still wants the ball.

That switch in mindset has been an emphasis all season, but it remains an issue.

"It's not that it's not being addressed; it's just a hard thing to crack," Calipari said. "You have to be more into your team than how you're playing. You have to bring us great energy and passion, and you have to play for your team more than yourself. That's a hard one when you've got a bunch of 18-, 19-year-olds."

For UK to win on Saturday, those 18- and 19-year olds won't have much choice but put team above self.

The Cats are facing one of the toughest road challenges in the SEC. The Tigers have lost just once all season at Mizzou Arena and that loss to Georgia on Jan. 8 ended the nation's longest home winning streak. In the last three seasons, Missouri owns a 40-2 record in Columbia, Mo.

"We just have to know that they're a tough team and everybody's going to give us their best game," Johnson said. "We just have to be prepared for that."

Of course, a lot of that home success has to do with the fact that the Tigers are simply a good team.

"Guard play is really good," Calipari said. "Their inside people are very role-oriented. They do what they're supposed to do. The big kid sets great screens, gets around the goal and makes baskets. But their guard play, the combined three of their guards are as good as we'll play in or outside of our league."

Those three guards -- Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross -- are the Tigers' three leading scorers. Together, they are averaging 52.8 points per game and accounting for more than 70 percent of Missouri's scoring production.

"I think they have some really nice guards," Poythress said. "I think we just have to come in, play some defense and be able to guard them."

But as always, it's not the matchups that Coach Cal is most concerned about. It's the way his team is playing.

"Lose yourself into the team," Calipari said. "When we do that, you'll start seeing change."

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