Kentucky Wildcats TV posted this very cool video on Tuesday morning featuring highlights and audio from John Calipari.
"You can't change how we started. Not changing. You can change how you approach the end."
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Kentucky Wildcats TV posted this very cool video on Tuesday morning featuring highlights and audio from John Calipari.
"You can't change how we started. Not changing. You can change how you approach the end."
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."
The Southeastern Conference season wears on and league coaches called in on Monday for another SEC Coaches Teleconference. John Calipari gave an update on his team entering this week, which you can find below.
Additionally, you can read what Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy had to say as the Rebels prepare to host UK on Tuesday night, as well as some thoughts from Florida's Billy Donovan on Julius Randle.
On this week's matchups against Ole Miss and LSU ...
"Well, we're playing two really--teams that have given us problems. I mean, Mississippi at home was anybody's ballgame with six minutes to go in the game. Obviously LSU had us down double digits most of the game, almost got it 20 and so they'll be two tough games for us."
On how much different of a team Ole Miss is without Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner ...
"Well, those younger guys are pretty good players now too. And they're different. They're more athletic as far as--they may be, you know, more slender. But those two, anyone would be more slender compared to those two. But I think they're athletic, I think they're long, they give them a little different dimension and those other two were veteran, big-bodied guys, hard to go against. But I'm liking Mississippi's team."
On what his team did to have success against Ole Miss ...
"You could say that, but I'm telling you, with six minutes to go it was anybody's ballgame. And then we got a couple breakouts and made a shot and all of a sudden it was 12, and then we got going a little bit. But that was late, late in the game. You're at the mercy of them making jumpers. And again, I think their point guard (Jarvis Summers) is really - I think he makes them go. They've got other players on that team that can score baskets, and then (Marshall) Henderson at any time can make five straight baskets. Can you keep your head about you if he does? And he seems to do it at home more than he does on the road."
On whether being out of the conference race changes the psychology of how he approaches his team ...
"I've never been big on conference championships or conference tournaments. Every game we play is to prepare us for March, and that's how we approach it. I think the history of my teams have done well in conference play and conference tournaments because they're not the goal. The goal is to be at our best in March. And so, the last game we played, I'll be honest with you, (for) 30 minutes that's as good as we've played all year. What happened down the stretch was that mental discipline that I talked about before the game. 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. And I told the team this: It's about chemistry, energy and a will to win for your team. There were three rebounds you would have figured our best rebounder would have got balls, and he was right there with another guy, and they got all those balls. (Dorian Finney-)Smith got one, (Casey) Prather got one down the middle, they got another one, tipped back one for a 3. There was all that will to get that ball that they had more than we had. But, again, our goals haven't changed. I'm happy with my team. What that game showed me: We're as good as anybody in the country; we can play with anybody. Now let's shore this up, let's get this chemistry together and this energy together, let's create a little more will to win down the stretch, execute. They got to the line by driving it. We took bailout 3s. Can't do that. Can't do that late in the game. But again, we're still learning."
On the up-and-down play of some of his players ...
"For us, we've got a pretty inexperienced front line, and I think really as it occurs across the league and across the country, kids that are a little more inexperienced, whether it be because they're freshmen or sophomores or because they've never really played the roles that they're currently holding, they typically play better at home. They're more comfortable at home. They play more confidently, more assertively, and I think that's been the case with our guys. We go on the road and we're not nearly as assertive as we need to be, and as a result we're not nearly as productive. We've got to take the right approach. We've done that when we've been at home and we just haven't been able to carry with us on the road. You're well aware of the number differential from a productivity standpoint home and away, and as a result we're not having as much success on the road."
On Calipari saying the game at Rupp was anyone's game with six minutes left ...
"Well, Cal's pretty diplomatic in that answer. We stayed around for a while. I believe it was a two- or three-possession game maybe until the 10-, 12-minute mark of the second half. We couldn't get a rebound, which has really been kind of a broken record for us. But we just could not get a rebound in the second half. If you remember, we had some dead-ball rebounds, but the first one that an Ole Miss Rebel got I believe was under two minutes to go in the second half. So we zoned them quite a bit and they did not make a 3-point shot in the second half, but even the ones that they missed they got every rebound. I think Willie Cauley-Stein probably played his best game in a Kentucky uniform and just dominated on both ends. They certainly got some run-outs, but they got control of the game at about the 30-minute mark and then we were just trying to hold on for dear life."
On bringing Marshall Henderson off the bench on Saturday and how it worked ...
"It worked out pretty good. He's just really been struggling with his shooting percentages in road games, non-league and SEC. Going into Georgia, he was shooting close to 30 percent from the floor and less than 25 percent in the first half. So I was just doing something to try to change the way that he approached the game, allow him to see it for a few minutes on the bench and, you know, I don't know if that directly affected his performance but he came out and made shots. I think he had 14 (points) in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting, something like that. As a result, we were leading at the half. Second half, he struggled a little bit and as a result we came up a possession short. But that was the thinking: just trying to find a winning combination."
On playing UK and Florida this week and whether he brings up Ole Miss's bubble status ...
"Well, it's out there anyway for sure. But we've lost two--we had two heartbreakers last week. Really our focus is on winning a game and Kentucky presents the next opportunity to do that on Tuesday night. We know it's going to be a difficult challenge because we've seen that firsthand a couple weeks ago in Rupp. But for us right now, we've lost two in a row and we're sitting at 16-9 through 25 (games) but those 16 seem like a faint memory simply because we haven't won one in a week. So for us the focus is on winning a game."
Florida head coach Billy Donovan
On what he said to Julius Randle after Saturday's game ...
"I just said, 'Congratulations on a great year.' I didn't get a chance to see his mom. I know she was cheering real hard for him. After the game I just said, 'Congratulations for a great game' and 'I see your mom cheering hard.' He just smiled. He's a great kid and certainly I was fortunate to get the opportunity to be around him for about two or three weeks there in the summer before he went to Kentucky, so that was an enjoyment of mine because he is such a great kid."
On what impresses him the most about Randle ...
"Besides what people can see with his talent and his skills, the way he puts it on the floor and his size. And again, John can probably comment better about this than I can because obviously I had him for a short period of time. The thing I was impressed with him is, when I had him he was the same guy every single day. He was the same guy. We went double sessions because there was a lot to get prepared for because we only had about a week of practice before we competed so we had to do double sessions. As a young kid, being in high school and maybe not going through college practices before and playing against other good players, he was always there early, he was getting shots up, he was always ready to go, he had a smile on his face, he enjoyed playing, he enjoyed working and competing and trying to get better, and I thought he was an everyday guy. Now obviously that was only for a couple weeks and a college basketball season is a lot longer. I'm sure like most guys there are going to be ups and downs. But I always appreciated his disposition in practice each day."
After a driving layup by Andrew Harrison, the Wildcats led No. 3/4 Florida by seven with barely 11 minutes to play in an electric Rupp Arena.
But even then, he figured the veteran Gators would make a run. He figured his team would be tested in the final minutes.
He was right, because Florida didn't waste any time getting back into it. Within three minutes, the Gators had a lead. From there, they did what they've done all season.
"What they did, they've done -- I'm guessing -- 10 games this year, where, with five minutes to go, four minutes to go, three minutes to go, it's anybody's ballgame," Calipari said. "Then they just grinded better than the other team grinds it, like they did us. They were just a little too experienced for us down the stretch."
Fittingly, it was a trio of seniors that carried Florida (23-2, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) to its 17th victory in a row by a final of 69-59.
When the Gators needed points, Billy Donovan put Scottie Wilbekin into pick-and-rolls. He responded by scoring 12 points over the decisive final 10:41 during which Florida outscored UK 31-14 to finish with 23 points and zero turnovers.
When the Gators wanted to go inside, they went to Patric Young. He delivered by scoring eight of his 10 points over the first four minutes of Florida's game-ending run.
When the Gators needed a hustle play, leading scorer Casey Prather (24 points, four steals) was there, most notably on an offensive rebound with 1:27 left. On the play, Prather skied over three Wildcats with his team leading by five to all but salt away victory.
"We have to make that play," said Andrew Harrison, who had a team-high 20 points on Saturday night.
It's those kinds of plays that mark fine line between winning and losing in a game such as this one.
"We lost to a good team," Calipari said. "I'm not happy. We lost to a good team. But we had our chances and we're not ready to win that kind of game, and I told them that."
For the better part of 29 minutes, it looked as if UK (19-6, 9-3 SEC) was indeed ready. The No. 14/13 Cats had played their best defense of the season, holding Florida to an average of just 0.86 points on its first 44 possessions.
To follow that, UK had a series of breakdowns and miscommunications, all of which had to do with Florida's execution. Over the final 13 possessions of the game -- excluding the last one when the Gators ran out the clock -- Florida scored 31 points for an astounding average of 2.38 points per possession.
"Florida deserved to win the game," Calipari said. "When they got all those rebounds late and the execution, it's just an effort that I'm going to go get this ball. They got those three rebounds that cost us seven points. In a game like that, you can't recover with that least amount of time left."
Especially not with Florida locking down defensively.
Florida entered the game ranked as one of the best defenses in the country and backed it up. UK shot the ball reasonably well (47.6 percent), but managed only eight second-chance points on nine offensive rebounds, an area that has been UK's strength all season.
"We didn't execute well enough," Harrison said. "We just didn't make enough plays at the end."
Calipari praised Harrison for his play for most of the game. The freshman point guard overcame a 1-for-7 start from the field to shoot 6-of-12 and 8-of-8 at the line, but the senior he was matchup up with was simply better at the end.
"I thought Andrew played a terrific basketball game, but the last four minutes, Scottie just outplayed him," Calipari said.
As UK looks to move forward, it's facts like that one Calipari will be asking his players to face.
"So we've got to understand and listen and not blame each other," Calipari said. "Take responsibility. If a guy outplayed you, admit it, the guy outplayed me."
At the same time, they are faced with more immediate priorities. With almost certainly just one year together as presently assembled, the Cats know they have no choice but to come together and come together fast.
There's no overstating the magnitude of that challenge.
"They're trying to grow as an individual player yet come together," John Calipari said. "Think how hard that is. Trying to establish who they are and how they have to play, yet do it for each other. This stuff is impossible."
But at Kentucky, "impossible" is not part of the vocabulary.
"I told them yesterday, 'It's not fair what I'm asking you to do,' " Calipari said. " 'Now do it. Now do it.' It's not fair. You can't ask kids to do what we ask them to do. It's not fair. But, now do it. And they're trying."
The challenge facing UK's team almost exclusively comprised of freshmen and sophomores is what they signed up for. By coming to Kentucky, the Cats decided they wanted to take center stage, to bypass the chance to develop in the shadows behind upperclassmen. They chose these bright lights.
The lights don't get any brighter than the ones under which No. 14/13 UK (19-5, 9-2 Southeastern Conference) will play on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET. No. 3/4 Florida (22-2, 11-0 SEC) comes to Lexington two games ahead in the conference race and in the midst of a 16-game winning streak. To add to the hype, ESPN will be in town to host its weekly College GameDay show the morning of the game.
"It's a great opportunity," Calipari said. "It's why you come here, to play these kind of games against highly ranked teams that come into your building favored to win with veterans, and here we are."
A familiar storyline will be trotted out again for the rivalry game: Will UK's youngsters be able to overcome the Gators with talent? Or will Florida's experience rule the day?
"This game is going to be our 19-year-olds against their 23-year-olds," Calipari said. "Now, how does that play out? I know when they're 35 and 36, and you're 30, that's a difference. The old guys have got a little problem there. But at the younger ages, they've got an advantage. And it is an advantage. Most of it is the discipline they play with."
Though it's a fact that four of Florida's regulars are seniors and all five of UK's starters over the last four games freshmen, the Cats aren't all that interested.
"We just don't want use it as an excuse," Alex Poythress said. "It's not that he tells us to drop (youth as an excuse); it's just like we don't want to make excuses for ourselves. We just want to come out and play the game.
But to call Florida a team facing a major talent deficit is doing a disservice to the Gators. Florida has inserted itself into the upper echelon of national-title contenders on the strength of a deep, skilled rotation. All-America candidate Casey Prather leads four Gators scoring in double figures at 15.3 points per game and senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin closely follows at 13.0.
When Coach Cal talks about the Gators, he uses phrases familiar to UK fans. He references their ability to focus for 40 minutes and their ability to close games. The thing, however, that most catches his attention is defense.
"Their emotion is all tied into their defense," Calipari said. "That's what they do well."
Florida ranks seventh nationally and first in the SEC in defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.908 points per possession. The Gators excel in all areas, holding opponents to 39.3-percent shooting, forcing turnovers on 21.8 percent of possessions (24th nationally) and ranking 30th in the country in defensive free-throw rate.
"Florida plays real good on defense," Poythress said. "You know, they got some veteran players. They know how to play, have been there a long time, know how to help each other."
The defense starts on the ball with the tireless Wilbekin, while fellow senior and lead shot blocker Patric Young protects the rim. UK freshman Dakari Johnson -- who was recruited by Billy Donovan -- knows Young well.
"When I went up there to visit I shadowed him," Johnson said. "So he's a real good player. He competes hard for 40 minutes, so we've just got to compete with them."
In preparation, it's Coach Cal's custom to show only limited tape of opponents to his team. However, he spotlighted one play Young made in Florida's 67-58 win over Tennessee. The physical 6-foot-9, 240 pounder forgot all concerns about his own personal safety to dive for a loose ball.
"What are you willing to do to win a game?" Calipari said, explaining his reasoning for showing the play. "I know what he's willing to do to win a game. I saw it. Now you look at it."
Now, the Cats have a chance to show they can match that kind of effort.
"This game will tell us where we are, and I would imagine they're coming in not to just win," Calipari said. "They want to smash. We're going to find out."
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