DeMarcus Cousins | Milwaukee Bucks: 111, Sacramento Kings: 103 In Sacramento's last game before the All-Star break, Cousins posted a monster double-double on the road versus Brandon Knight's Bucks. The 24-year-old Alabama native recorded 28 points (on 10-for-12 free-throw shooting), 19 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in a losing effort on Feb. 11.
Eric Bledsoe | #2 PG | Phoenix Suns (29-25) After missing a Feb. 8 contest with Sacramento to witness the birth of his child, Bledsoe returned to action last Tuesday in a 127-118 loss to the Houston Rockets. With 12 points in 13 trips to the foul line, Bledsoe totaled 32 points on the day. He filled out the box score with four assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block.
DeMarcus Cousins | #15 C | Sacramento Kings (18-34) In only three matchups last week, Cousins recorded two 28-point games, each complemented by a double-digit performance on the glass. Before last Wednesday's double-double in Milwaukee, Cousins posted 28 points and 12 rebounds in an 85-83 win over the Phoenix Suns.
Enes Kanter | #0 C | Utah Jazz (19-34) Kanter-- who averages 7.8 RPG on the season-- grabbed at least 10 rebounds in both Jazz contests last week, highlighted by a 14-point, 11-rebound performance in a 100-96 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Brandon Knight | #11 PG | Milwaukee Bucks (30-23) After an uncharacteristically lackluster showing in a Feb. 9 Bucks win, Knight scored 20 points (with six rebounds and five assists) in Milwaukee's eight-point defeat of Cousins' Kings.
Jodie Meeks | #20 SG | Detroit Pistons (21-33) Despite two low scoring performances in Pistons losses on Sunday and Wednesday, Meeks poured in 18 points in a 106-78 Detroit win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
Nerlens Noel | #4 C | Philadelphia 76ers (12-41) In the Sixers' only game, Noel stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. Philly lost to the Golden State Warriors, 89-84. John Wall | #2 PG | Washington Wizards (33-21) Despite re-injuring a nagging sprained ankle in a Feb. 9 win, Wall bounced back on Wednesday with 21 points and eight assists in a 95-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 11.
Cats in All-Star Weekend
Rising Stars Challenge Nerlens Noel contributed four points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals in a starting effort for Team USA in the Rising Stars Challenge. Team World, however, won the game, 121-112.
Skills Challenge After beating defending champion Trey Burke (Jazz) in the first round, and cruising past Kyle Lowry (Raptors) in the second, Brandon Knight was defeated by Patrick Beverley (Houston Rockets) in the Skills Challenge final. All-Star Game In his first career All-Star starting nod, John Wall scored 19 points and dished out seven assists in the Eastern Conference's 163-158 loss to the Western Conference. Cousins added 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the West. Anthony Davis, who was voted a frontcourt starter for the West, sat out the weekend with a sprained shoulder.
Kentucky moved to 26-0 with a 66-48 win at Tennessee on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Not many coaches can say it, but John Calipari has been in this position before.
Twice before this season he'd coached teams to 26-0 starts, experience he's calling on as Kentucky set a record for the best start in program history on Tuesday night.
It's with that in mind that Coach Cal has changed his approach to coaching through mistakes.
"I would have, you know, we keep winning, we're up 18, I'm not screwing this up," Calipari said. "Well you are screwing it up if you don't correct. You are screwing it up if it happens in March and you let it go in February, shame on me."
For that reason, Calipari didn't sound much like a winning coach after the top-ranked Wildcats (26-0, 13-0 Southeastern Conference) won at Tennessee (14-11, 6-7 SEC), 66-48. He isn't letting mistakes go by without comment.
Take Devin Booker for example. The freshman sharpshooter scored a game-high 18 points and added a career-best seven rebounds. He played good defense for good measure as UK held Tennessee to 37.5-percent shooting - including 17 points on 25-percent second-half shooting - but Calipari was looking for more.
"Yeah, but he missed a bunch of shots," Calipari said. "And I was getting upset because I kept saying we wanted to start the game posting the ball. So what did we do? We shot 3s."
UK made just 5 of 22 from 3-point range, but the Cats rebounded more than half their overall misses to make up for it. However, the fact that Tennessee had 19 offensive rebounds to UK's 17 did not escape Coach Cal's notice.
"Well, let me say this," Calipari said. "We didn't outrebound them, and they got 19 offensive rebounds and there was a clip with three minutes to go where they got five offensive rebounds in a row. So, we have some work to do."
In Calipari's mind, the same goes for UK's two-headed point-guard monster of Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis. The pair combined for 22 points, eight assists and just one of UK's 11 turnovers, but they heard from their coach as well.
"I was on Andrew because he wasn't attacking," Calipari said. "I said, 'If you don't attack I'm not putting you in the game. I don't care if you turn the ball over. When you catch it if you just pass it, you're coming out.' Then, when he attacks, Andrew, now we got he and Tyler both attacking, we're coming running downhill at you, and we become the aggressor."
That mentality, to Calipari, is what it's all about.
"That's why I keep telling them, you've got to come out and play," Calipari said. "If you're not attacking, I'm taking you out. You can say that I'm messing with you but I don't care what you say, but you're not going to play. Because that's the way they're going to get us."
Aggressiveness wasn't the problem for Karl-Anthony Towns, rather controlling it. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Week played just a minute in the first half after picking up a pair of fouls that Calipari says can't happen come tournament time.
"I was just really disappointed in those fouls, and they were fouls," Calipari said. "I mean, they were just a plain push - 'What are you - why would you do that? Are you going to do that in March? Is that the play you'll make in March? Then foul a shooter?' And he fouled him. So, there are things we have to know and grow from."
To the outside world, the Cats' pursuit of perfection defines them. There are ESPN commercials about it and all. But to Calipari, it's all about that improvement. Whether UK falters in game No. 27 as UMass did in 1995-96 and Memphis did in 2007-08 matters little. Getting to and winning game No. 40 is what counts.
"I'm telling you, we're playing to get better," Calipari said. "If that means we win more games, that's fine. We are playing to get better. There are areas of offense we're focusing on and there's areas of defense we're focusing on. And that's what we're doing."
And don't doubt the Cats have accepted that challenge.
"When Coach really says this is like a wolf pack, this is a wolf pack," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Like, we're trying to be something special. So every day we're trying to make each other better and that's powerful. That's what--you know that's the path we're on and we're going to continue to be on that path, so, I mean, that's the biggest thing I can tell you."
On this week's games against Tennessee and Auburn ... "Well, I will tell you that I think both programs probably have surprised all of us coaches in the league in that what they've done and how they've played this year. And both done it different ways. I mean, Tennessee playing an aggressive, attacking zone and an open offense and driving the ball and Auburn pressing and being physical and beating you on the bounce and offensive rebounding. Going on the road and winning in this league, which is really difficult, both of those teams have done that. Like I said, this league, top to bottom, we're there. We're literally there. I'm so happy. I was so happy to see an article say, 'You can say it over and over. It doesn't make it true.' And that people now are realizing that we got a bunch of teams. And just because we're beating each other does not make us weak. It means we're really strong. Every game is coming down to a one-bucket game, including our games." On how much he works with Alex Poythress during his recovery ... "Well, I'm not doing anything with him because they just tell me when the bus leaves. I'm not the physical therapist and the trainer and all that stuff. Now they tell me how far along he is. My thing to Alex all the time is, does it still hurt? Does it really hurt when you have to stretch? Because Brad went through it. I know how painful it is. And he says, 'Yes, it's killer.' I said, 'Lovely, it's exactly what you need. It's exactly the thing that's going to get you to that next point in your career. Just saw him this morning, asked him how his knee was. He said, 'I'm doing better, Coach.' So, great kid."
On how much he includes Poythress in team activities ... "He comes with the team and he's at meetings and all those things. I mean, it's hard. Ask Willie. Last year when he gets hurt in the NCAA Tournament run, if you're not in the fray, you're in the back lines, you're watching with binoculars, it's hard. They come back, you don't feel what they feel. You didn't have the same emotion that they had. But he's doing great."
On what lessons he took from long unbeaten runs at Memphis and UMass ... "Well, the reality of it is the kids have to manage those things. It's not me because I'm not out there on the court. But I've got one job, and my first time we did this at UMass, I knew we were slipping. But we kept winning so I put my head in the sand. I was just like, 'Let these guys go do their thing.' And I had done it years before we went that because we went on win streaks in previous years - 17, 15, whatever they were at UMass - and what you get as a coach, you win and you want to move on to the next game and you try to put your head in the sand when you have issues that you gotta deal with. I did a little bit of the same but got better at Memphis. I'm trying really hard not to do that here, to do my job, to correct them, to be tough on them, to not worry about score and coach them. But it's hard. They're looking at me like, 'We're up 25 and haven't lost and you're losing your mind.' My point being, if I allow it now then I gotta allow it in March. And if in March I allow it and it costs us a game, that's on me. That's not on these kids. And so I'm trying really hard to just stay focused on what's at hand. Don't put my head in the sand. If there's issues, I bring them out. If there's issues in the team that I'm not liking what I feel, I bring them out. Even if I'm wrong, I bring them out. Let's talk about this. And they'll, 'Look, Coach, you're just dreaming. What were you doing? You're reading a book and things pop in your mind? We're fine.' So that's the kind of stuff that we do and what I'm continuing to do. These kids, I don't think they're worried about, let's try to win every game. They're worried about trying to win the next game and how do we play. My message to this team is going to be real simple. Today, it's going to be, our strength is in the pack, more than any team that I've ever coached. And I've coached a lot of good teams. More than any team I've coached, the strength is in the pack. And I said, 'It doesn't mean we don't have some aggressive, tough wolves that'll come after you.' But by themselves, they're not the same. In the pack, we have a little swag about us. We're a little more aggressive. We're really about each other. Guys aren't afraid to step out and risk. This team more than others--when you had Anthony (Davis) or John (Wall) or DeMarcus (Cousins) and I could go back to Marcus Camby and Derrick Rose and Lou Roe and some of the guys we had. Tyreke Evans. You know, we were a good and we were efficient, but we knew that one guy could go do this and carry us. That's not what we have. The strength of this team is in the pack." On Anthony Davis talking to Willie Cauley-Stein at LSU and whether he arranged it ... "No, but here's what's great about it. All our players that went through here are watching this team, and they want to help. They want the team to be great. But the best thing that Anthony did - instead of just talking to (Cauley-Stein), he came to the game and watched him. So there's B.S., that 'You did this' or 'I tried this' or this or that. There's no B.S. If you want to do this, this is what you have to be or you can't do that. What I'm doing here, you can't be in this thing. And so then it's - I can say it all I want. Anthony Davis is busting up against being the best player in the NBA. And he comes back, he talked to Karl Towns. He grabbed Karl after the game and told him. It means something coming from me, but coming from those guys is huge."
On if leaving one day early could impact UK's normal routine ... "Well, you must know me well. I'm a creature of habit. For however many years I've been a head coach we've done it the same way. Offense is different, defense is different, players are different, but what we do as a family, how we travel, how are meals are, is very consistent. This was a change. We had no choice. Today, you're right, my concern is how do we do this and not get off point? So, we're going to go over this afternoon and do shooting and individual work. We have the main arena from 12-2, but we're only going to be there for about an hour and it's not going to be knocking each other out. But if I let them go all day, and they're going to sleep, and we get up to eat, and they go back to sleep, and then they sleep all night, then they get up for breakfast, and then they go back to sleep, and then we go to a shootaround and they go back to sleep, we will be sleepwalking in that game Tuesday. So, we're going to come back and practice later today, probably 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock, have a great meal, let them lay around, have a meeting and try to get back to the rhythm of what we do. But, yes, I'm a creature of habit. I'm meatloaf and potatoes, unless they don't have it, then I may try a steak."
Dakari Johnson had 10 points and 13 rebounds in UK's 77-43 win over South Carolina on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
His team might be unbeaten and top-ranked, but that's not stopping John Calipari from pushing every button he can think of to get the most out of the Wildcats.
Even if it means changing long-standing coaching habits.
"Normal case, we back up off practice this time of the year," Calipari said. "Well, we went back Thursday to an hour of scrimmage and then they got after each other and I even scrimmaged them 15 minutes Friday, which I never do. "
By its historically high standards, Kentucky had lost a bit of an edge in recent weeks, especially on defense. Opponents had scored a point per possession in the previous four games entering a rematch with South Carolina after managing to do so just twice in the season's first 20 games.
"We got a good group of players that need to go after - they don't want to do drills," Calipari said. "They look at me and say, 'Stop the drills, let's play.' "
Of course, the Cats had held on to their unbeaten record in the process, but Coach Cal was out to recapture that edge.
"They argue, fight, foul, grab, and whoever loses has to run," Calipari said. "If I forget to tell them to run, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, White's got to run.' And then I got to make them run and then we--so they don't--if they beat somebody they're making that other team run. They're really competitive."
So competitive, in fact, that they can't even agree which group has the upper hand.
"Well, my squad hasn't been losing as much," Dakari Johnson said, laughing.
"We usually win - I'm just joking," Andrew Harrison said. "They're fun matchups. You have to compete or you're going to lose. No one wants to lose."
South Carolina saw that mentality up close and in person on Saturday in Rupp Arena.
UK scored the first basket of the game 17 seconds in and never looked back. The Cats (25-0, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) were dominant on both ends of the floor in a 77-43 victory. UK held South Carolina (12-12, 3-9 SEC) to 23.6-percent shooting and 0.694 points per possession and shot 50 percent from the field.
"We played well," Calipari said. "Offensively we were really good, which created a pretty big gap. But I thought we defended, we played with great energy, we needed to play a game like this."
Perhaps most impressively, UK outrebounded South Carolina, 45-21, just three weeks removed from the Gamecocks winning the battle on the glass against the Cats, 40-28. Kentucky had just three offensive rebounds in that first matchup, but 15 this time to South Carolina's nine defensive rebounds.
Those scrimmages had something to do with that.
"During practices we play physical against each other," said Johnson, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds. "We started scrimmaging against each other again. So we're really going at each other. I think it brought our competitiveness back out."
The competitiveness back, the Cats regained the form of some of their earlier dominant performances and tied the school record for the best start in school history set in 1953-54. Taking a break from his laser-like focus on improvement and best positioning his team for the postseason, Coach Cal talked briefly to his team about the achievement.
"We're all freshmen and sophomores and Willie (Cauley-Stein) and you played an unbelievable schedule," Calipari said. "One of the best nonconference schedules in the country and you're one of the best leagues in the country."
Cauley-Stein, who had a team-high 14 points to go with seven rebounds, fully understands the magnitude of what he and his teammates have done.
"It's just like special, for real," he said. "We don't really think about it as a whole, you just kind of take it day by day, work on stuff that you did wrong, and I mean the outcome is going to be the outcome, like you just prepare for it. But, like, I think it's just special to me because I came from one of the worst teams on Kentucky's history to now one of the top teams on Kentucky's history. I mean, it's just kind of cool to see the evolution of what was going on."
The evolution, however, isn't over.
"We can do something bigger," Cauley-Stein said. "We have the chance to do something way bigger than just tying it."