Cats Show Reaching Potential Won't Happen Overnight
Kentucky looked like it was in March form on Tuesday.
Three days later, the Wildcats gave a reminder it’s still only November.
“I guess when we think this is going to be easy—what we do is very, very difficult,” John Calipari said. “Which is take young guys and try to make them a team, get them to play off of one another, get them to communicate. When they think they need to, they do.”
Those young guys executed those things to perfection against Duke, but did anything but against Wright State in their return to Rupp Arena on Friday night. UK managed a 78-63 victory to move to 4-0, but it took Calipari coaching with all his might on every possession to get it done.
“I don’t think we had the same amount of energy coming out, coming against this team,” said Isaiah Briscoe, who scored 15 points. “I mean, we got the win. It wasn’t the prettiest win. We think we could have beaten them by more. But we’ll take the win.”
Without Tyler Ulis, the Cats may not have gotten it at all.
After Ulis played all 40 minutes against Duke, Coach Cal tried to give the 5-foot-9 point guard a breather against the Raiders (1-3). But Wright State took advantage of his absence, outscoring Kentucky by five points during the four minutes Ulis spent on the bench.
“I didn't want to play him as many minutes as he played,” Calipari said. “But I said I want to win a game more than worry about not playing him. If we can't win without him on the floor, then he'll be on the floor every minute. And that means someone's not playing much. When he went out, we let them back in it.”
For the second straight game, Ulis set a career high in scoring. He poured in 21 points and added five assists. Ulis hit 10-of-12 free throws as UK made more shots from the foul line than the field with Wright State playing a physical brand of defense.
“He’s just awesome,” said Alex Poythress, who tallied a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “He always finds little gaps and holes you don’t think he’s going to find. Always poised, doesn’t get rattled out there, plays great defense, protects the ball. He’s one of the leaders on our team.”
The Cats will count on that leadership in the coming days of practice. They can expect Ulis to deliver a message similar to Calipari’s.
“We have to learn from this game,” Ulis said. “We have a lot of young guys playing and they don’t know yet. I feel like we’re going to bounce back. Cal’s going to be pretty hard on us in practice and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”
Still only a sophomore, Ulis is a veteran relative to freshmen starters Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray and Briscoe. He’s come to know what to expect from Calipari, but he has nothing on Poythress. The forward is the lone Kentucky senior and has been through this exact process three times now.
“I’ve been with him four years,” Calipari said. “I know what to expect. I know when he yells what he means and all that stuff. You can’t take the way he says it. You just gotta take the criticism of what he’s saying. You just gotta soak it in and keep on playing.”
For their part, the newcomers seem to have a good grasp on that already.
“Cal knows what he’s talking about, he knows what he’s doing, and he was disappointed,” Briscoe said.
All Calipari can do now is turn that disappointment into something to learn from ahead of a Tuesday game against Boston.
“I want us to just keep climbing,” Calipari said. “We took a big step back. Guys didn't listen. We're doing certain things and they just kind of broke it off and did their own thing. In a league game, we lose. Not winning a league game playing the way we played.”