Cats Host Bulldogs Tuesday at Rupp
For the last few weeks, John Calipari has looked down his bench and seen a 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward.
That specimen is Tai Wynyard, the Auckland, New Zealand native who enrolled in December and has practiced and traveled with the team ever since.
|Kentucky vs. Mississippi State|
|Tue., Jan. 12 - 7 p.m. ET
Game Notes: UK | MSU
Digital Gameday Program
|UK||2015-16 Team Stats||MSU|
The one thing Wynyard hasn’t done is play in a game.
“He’s doing some great stuff,” Calipari said. “There are times we look at each other, like, ‘We just gotta put him in.’ ”
The impulse is understandable, considering Wynyard – in theory – provides exactly the kind of physical presences Kentucky has so often lacked inside. Calipari hasn’t given into it (other than sending Wynyard to the scorer’s table in the waning moments of a blowout win over Ole Miss, only to have time run out before a stoppage) because the freshman just isn’t quite ready yet.
“He's just now getting in shape,” Calipari said. “You gotta understand, he's only been here a couple weeks now.”
Wynyard has had a unique experience in transitioning to college basketball. Within about a day of his arrival, he completed all the paperwork needed to travel with his new team to Brooklyn, N.Y., for a game against Ohio State. From that point forward, it’s been all basketball, all the time.
“As soon as I got here, we got straight into (Camp) Cal,” Wynyard said. “So that was real good for me trying to get into shape and into the mix of things and just learning a lot about everyone and stuff. So it was good not having to go to classes or anything because I just got the chance to just work out and stuff. It’s been a lot of fun.”
A lot of fun, but a lot of work as well.
“It’s a lot more running and stuff than back home,” Wynyard said. “So yeah, I was a little bit out of shape, but I’m getting back in shape now. Coach (Kenny) Payne is working with me a lot and he’s got me in shape now so I’m feeling really good.”
Wynyard has approached the challenge in front of him with energy and enthusiasm, both of which were on display as he met the local media for the first time on Monday ahead of UK’s game against Mississippi State at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. He was teased with temperate weather on his arrival, but this week has experienced more seasonable cold temperatures.
Wynyard got laughs talking about his weakness for American food, especially fried chicken, but his coaches have only praise for the commitment he has shown.
“He’s working hard,” assistant coach John Robic said. “He’s getting better. He’s getting in better shape. He’s a physical presence that’s helping us in practice a lot. He’s been able to push our other big guys to a physical limit. He’s done some nice things. He’s trying to pick things up. When you’re three months in to when he got here it’s hard to play catchup, but he’s trying.”
Wynyard is working on his conditioning, but he admits learning on the fly where he needs to be on the floor at any given moment is as much of a challenge.
“It’s a lot of plays to learn really quickly so it’s been tough for me because it’s changing every time they play a different team,” Wynyard said. “Not being here at the start has really left me kind of behind. I’m trying to catch up all the time. I’m kind of getting there still, I’m still learning and stuff. It’s really good.”
His coaches say it’s only a matter time before he’s up to speed, which is why Calipari says it’s unlikely he redshirts.
“I think he's gonna be able to help our team,” Calipari said.
What he doesn’t know is when that will be.
“I think more it’s when we have a comfort level that he can go in and do the things we need to him do without minimizing what we’re trying to do within the flow of the game,” Robic said. “And then I think there will be certain matchups that will be better for him, like with Isaac (Humphries) as well – a big, strong, physical player.”
In the meantime, Wynyard is already helping his team with his physicality.
“He’s a physical presence that’s helping us in practice a lot,” Robic said. “He’s been able to push our other big guys to a physical limit. He’s done some nice things.”
Kentucky fans are eager to see those nice things for themselves.
“If (my debut is) at Rupp it’s going to be crazy because there’s what, 25,000 or something crazy fans?” Wynyard said. “Back home I’m used to what, 4,000 at most? It’ll be an eye-opener, yeah.”
Poythress Breaks Out to Lead Cats Past Alabama
Senior Alex Poythress poured in a career-high 25 points and freshman Jamal Murray added 21 points as the Wildcats rolled to a 77-61 victory at Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Poythress and Murray combined to score UK’s first 27 points and were the offensive spark for UK, which improved to 30-6 under John Calipari following a loss. UK has not lost back-to-back games since March 1, 2014.
The Wildcats held a 16-point lead with just over a minute remaining in the first half, but Alabama (9-5, 0-2) went on an 18-6 run for the next six minutes, spanning halftime, to come within four points. Kentucky responded with a quick six-point spurt to recapture a double-digit lead it would not relinquish.
• UK shot 54.9 percent (28 of 51) from the field, it’s second-best output of the season
• Kentucky has held Alabama to less than 70 points in their last five meetings at Coleman Coliseum, its longest such streak since the arena opened in 1968
• UK had its largest rebounding margin in an SEC road win (plus-18) since Feb. 6, 2010 at LSU (plus-20)
• Poythress joined Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins, Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Randle as the only players since 2009-10 with at least 25 points in an SEC road game
• Junior Marcus Lee chipped in with eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds
• Sophomore Tyler Ulis logged eight points, eight assists and five rebounds, becoming the first UK player with at least four assists in eight straight games since Marquis Teague in 2011-12
• Ulis is the first UK player with at least six assists in each of the first three SEC games of a season since Travis Ford in 1993-94
• Murray has scored in double figures in 13 straight games and hit at least one 3-pointer in all 15 contests
• Freshman Isaiah Briscoe reached double figures with 10 points and added four assists
• Junior Mychal Mulder again contibuted with three points and four rebounds
Calipari Wins 200th Career Game at UK in Record Time
With a thrilling 75-73 victory over rival Louisville, John Calipari captured his 200th career win at Kentucky faster than any coach in UK history -- and nearly faster than anyone has ever done it at any other school.
Calipari reached the 200-win plateau in his 240th career game at Kentucky. Rick Pitino, previously the fastest to 200 wins at UK prior to Calipari, didn’t capture his 200th Wildcat win until his 249th game. The legendary Adolph Rupp reached 200 during his 250th game.
Not only did Calipari reach the 200-win mark in record pace at Kentucky, he also nearly set the all-time Division I mark. With the win over U of L, he became the second-fastest Division I men’s basketball coach to reach 200 victories at a single school, behind only LIU-Brooklyn’s Clair Bee, who achieved the feat in 231 games.
Calipari is one of just 11 head coaches in Division I men’s basketball history with at least 200 victories at two different schools and just the fifth coach at Kentucky to reach the 200-win plateau.
He’s currently the only coach in NCAA history with at least 189 victories at three different schools.