Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Goals unchanged, UK taking positive approach to Ole Miss

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Aaron Harrison had 16 points in UK's 80-64 win over Ole Miss on Feb. 4. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison had 16 points in UK's 80-64 win over Ole Miss on Feb. 4. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
If you were thinking doom and gloom would set in following UK's loss to Florida on Saturday, think again.

As painful as the defeat may have been -- and look no further than postgame interviews with the players for proof of that -- Sunday was a new day for John Calipari and the Wildcats.

"Everybody from the players to the staff to Cal was very, very upbeat, really positive," assistant coach John Robic said. "That's the most positive I've seen Cal and our staff after a defeat in a long time, and we haven't had that many defeats so we don't have that many opportunities to be like that."

It wasn't some false motivational pretense lifting the mood in practice either.

The coaching staff broke down tape of the loss to the Gators and saw all the good work the Cats did for nearly three-quarters of the game. The issues, of course, were plain to see in crunch time, but there was plenty of reason to be positive.

"What happened down the stretch was that mental discipline that I talked about before the game," Calipari said. "But it showed me that we can beat anybody in the country. We've got to shore up how we finish games off. It showed me our goals do not need to change -- at all."

UK might have fallen to No. 18/16 in the latest major polls on Monday, but everything -- Final Four, national championship and all the rest -- thought to be in play before the season remains that way.

"We just kind of found out that we could play with anybody in the country, but we just have to shore up some things and just work hard again and see where that takes us," Jarrod Polson said.

To pursue those goals, the Cats (19-6, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) must hone in on what prevented them from closing out what would have been their biggest win of the season on Saturday.

"What we did for the guys is we watched the last 11 minutes and 12 seconds of the game, dissected that, because that was the game," Robic said. "Saw what they did. In a lot of ways, that's what we need to do. We saw what we did, and we now know the adjustments that we have to make, and the players really, really understand that now."

Heading into a trip to Ole Miss (16-9, 7-5 SEC), UK will look to demonstrate that understanding.

UK took down the Rebels two weeks ago in Rupp Arena, 80-64, on the strength of a dominant second-half rebounding performance. In the rematch, however, the Cats expect a stiff test from an Ole Miss team returning to its home floor -- where the Rebels are 5-0 in SEC play -- hungry after back-to-back losses last week.

"Road games are always tough no matter where it is," Aaron Harrison said. "Ole Miss is a great team. I'm pretty sure it will be a great environment and a great game."

UK was solid defensively against Ole Miss on Feb. 4, limiting the dangerous Marshall Henderson to 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting and holding the Rebels to just two fast-break points.

"We were effective in our game plan," Robic said. "We carried it out very, very well. There were only two breakdowns, and Marshall Henderson hit two 3s on the two breakdowns. But that's what we're getting ready to go into practice now and make sure we're sharp on that."

With the Rebels playing on their home floor this time around, UK isn't expecting to pull away in the second half in Oxford, Miss. Instead, another test of the Cats' ability to execute late is likely in order.

After the loss to Florida, UK has six losses in games decided by 10 points or fewer. Coincidentally, that number is identical to the six defeats the 2010-11 Kentucky team had this time three years ago with Brandon Knight leading the way.

Polson was a freshman on that team and recalls battling many of the same issues that have caused problems in the final minutes this season.

"I think just trying to develop that will to win is what we're working on right now and I think we're getting better at it," Polson said. "Obviously we didn't succeed on Saturday, but I think that game will teach us more than it will hurt us."

As fans will surely remember, UK reeled off 10 straight wins to close the regular season, sweep through the SEC Tournament and reach the Final Four. With three true freshmen playing featured roles for a team with a short bench, UK won eight of those games by single digits.

UK is both younger and deeper this year, but the Cats must develop that same will to win.

"The more the young guys experienced those games, the more they knew what it was going to be like," Polson said. "I think that was the biggest thing: just taking the losses and realizing how bad it hurts to lose and taking that to the next games and wanting to win so bad."

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

Leave a comment

Recent Comments