Kentucky Travels to Florida for Tuesday Tilt

Two seasons ago, the tweak (and subsequent “re-tweak) John Calipari implemented entering the postseason reached mythical proportions and helped spur Kentucky to a run to the national-championship game.

Well, it’s back.

Kentucky vs. Florida
Tue., March 1 - 7 p.m. ET
Stephen C. O'Connell Center
Gainesville, Fla.
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UK 2015-16 Team Stats UF
21-8 Record 17-12
11-5 Conference Record 8-8
.472 FG% .424
.393 Opp FG% .406
.351 3FG% .316
.673 FT% .648
78.2 PPG 73.6
39.0 RPG 40.2
5.7 BPG 4.5
13.9 APG 13.2
5.8 SPG 6.6
“This is probably a week early for me, but we tweaked a few things,” John Calipari said, drawing laughs from reporters who immediately reached for their phones to tweet the soundbite. “Scary word. We tweaked a few things.”

Cue rampant speculation on the part of fans and media alike.

“It’s not a wholesale change from what we do, but you Basketball Bennies will have an idea of what I did,” Coach Cal said. “Most of you in this room will have no idea what I tweaked. But the people who really follow it, study it, will say, 'Well this is what he just did.’ ”

Onlookers will have their first chance to pick out the change when No. 22/19 UK (21-8, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) heads to Florida for a Tuesday matchup with the Gators (17-12, 8-8 SEC), yet another opponent playing for its NCAA Tournament life.

“It is going to be loud, you know?” Calipari said. “It’s going to be packed. It’s going to be a game that will be a hard game for us. But I’m, again just trying to focus on my team. I know how good (the Gators) are. I know how good they are in that building. It’s just I’m focused on my team. Let’s just try to get better.”

That’s what Calipari has in mind with his latest tweak.

Attempting to gain some insight both into the nature of the tweak and the status of UK’s injured floor-stretching forward, a reported asked if the tweak is based on Derek Willis being in or out of the lineup. The answer is neither, though Calipari did say Willis will not return Tuesday.

“What I’m doing is going to help us whether Derek is there or not,” Calipari said after revealing he hoped Willis would return for the regular-season finale on Saturday. “It’s something I probably should have done a long time ago but you kinda get blinded. You start winning games and guys are doing certain things and other guys are not so you just leave it alone.”

Reading between the lines, Calipari is referencing the way UK’s backcourt has covered up for other shortcomings with its dynamic and oftentimes incredible play. It nearly happened again on Saturday as Jamal Murray poured in 33 points at Vandy, but a lackluster second half and an uncharacteristic poor shooting performance by player-of-the-year candidate Tyler Ulis sent UK to a 74-62 defeat.

“I just had an off-shooting night,” Tyler Ulis said. “I wish I would have shot the ball better, maybe it would have been a different type of game. But it happens.”

The tweak, in theory, will help UK should Ulis go cold again by boosting the play and therefore the confidence of the players surrounding him and Murray.

“Demonstrated performance builds your confidence, so if they’re struggling to insert themselves you’ve got to help them and say, ‘Here’s how you do this,’ ” Calipari said. “Within what we’re doing, let’s think about this. That’s what tweaking is: ‘OK guys, here’s how we’re playing. Let’s focus a little bit more on this or let’s focus more on this.’ It’s too late to change how we play, but there’s no reason that we can’t have a confident basketball team. And that’s what we should have.”

On that front, the mere idea of a tweak could create a sort of placebo effect for the players Calipari is targeting. That’s part of the idea as it was two years ago, Coach Cal admits, but it’s bigger than that.

“Some of it is mental, but the other part is you’re changing how they think about playing, you’re changing the mentality of how they’re doing this,” Calipari said. “That gets them – especially the guys that need it. You’ve got some guys that, you know … But I’m anxious to go.”

Anxious as he might be, Calipari is still working on a compressed timeframe.

“See, last time if you remember I had three or four days before and we did it over time and I said, ‘You’re going to see,’ ” Calipari said. “This is yesterday we walked some stuff and then today we’re going to practice. We only have an hour and a half or less. We’re off Wednesday, so we’ll have Thursday, Friday. It’s the beginnings of it.”

Ideally, the change will help the Cats as they play the two games of the regular season with a conference championship on the line. UK and Texas A&M are currently tied atop SEC standings, but the ultimate goal lies beyond that.

To get there, it will take a team effort.

“You gotta go into tournament play, and if you think of us historically, we never went into tournament play with one or two guys playing well,” Calipari said. “We go into tournament play with five and six guys playing well, and then you’re hoping seven gets in and does something, too.

“We gotta get to that, and we got time. I’m, again, working on that earlier than normal, but let’s see if we can begin that process, that climb, to get our team like that.”

Wildcats Fall at Vanderbilt Despite Another Stellar Performance by Murray

Freshman guard Jamal Murray once again threatened the Kentucky scoring record by a freshman with another sensational performance, but it wasn’t enough Saturday as UK fell 74-62 to Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. UK dropped into a tie with Texas A&M for the Southeastern Conference lead with an 11-5 record and two games left to play in the regular season, though the Aggies own the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Murray posted his third 30-point game of the season with 33 points on a 12-of-20 shooting afternoon, including a 6-of-10 day from behind the arc. Murray scored 21 points in the first half, the most first-half points of the John Calipari era, breaking his previous record of 20 against Florida. The freshman from Kitchener, Ontario already owned the UK freshman record and Calipari era record with his previous two 30-point games.

The freshman from Kitchener, Ontario could have used more help, however, as just three other Wildcats scored against the Commodores, who may have locked up an NCAA Tournament at-large berth with the victory. Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis scored 12 points and dished out six assists, but he had an uncharacteristic off night with a 5-for-20 afternoon from the floor.

Junior forward Marcus Lee was the only Kentucky frontcourt player to score and finished with nine points, six rebounds and a game-high three blocks. Freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe got the remaining eight points for the Wildcats.

With Murray seemingly making everything from everywhere, UK pulled out in front by as many as eight points with 4:07 left in the first half. The two teams traded runs at various points in the first half -- UK 10-0, Vandy 9-0, UK 10-1 -- but the Wildcats only mustered a three-point lead at halftime despite Murray’s big first half.

Vanderbilt got off to a 15-8 run to start the half, taking a 51-47 lead. Kentucky reduced the deficit to one point on two occasions but never regained the lead.

• Senior Alex Poythress started for the first time since Feb. 2 at Tennessee
• Murray’s 33-point game (two points shy of his career high) marked the eighth game in a row he’s scored 20 or more points. It’s the longest streak since Jodie Meeks did it nine straight times in 2008-09. It was also his 14th 20-point game this season, tying Brandon Knight’s freshman record in 2010-11
• With six 3-pointers Saturday and 91 on the season, Murray broke Knight’s single-season freshman record for 3-point field goals. Knight made 87 in 2010-11
• Murray capped February with a 26.4 scoring average, the highest scoring month for a Wildcat since Meeks averaged 28.0 points per game in January 2009
• Murray grabbed nine rebounds, tying his career high whlie just missing out on his first career double-double
• UK has held 12 consecutive SEC opponents to worse than 42 percent from the field. That hasn’t been done by any UK team since at least the 1965-66 season
• It was the first game UK averaged less than a point per possession since the loss at Auburn on Jan. 16

Murray Picks Up Another SEC Freshman of the Week Honor

February will forever be a month to remember for freshman Jamal Murray. The sharpshooter averaged 26.4 points per game in eight games during the month and capped it with a 33-point performance at Vanderbilt en route to claiming Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honors on Monday. It is the fourth such honor of the season for the Kitchener, Ontario native.

Murray enjoyed another spectacular week for the Wildcats who are in the midst of one of the more difficult stretches of the season. He averaged a team-high 28 points per game and added 6.5 rebounds per game in a 1-1 week for the Wildcats.

Murray opened the week with 23 points, four rebounds and a pair of blocks in a dominating victory over Alabama. He followed that with his third 30-point outing of the season with 33 points at Vanderbilt on 12-of-20 shooting and six made 3-pointers. Murray was electrifying from the start with a Calipari era-best 21 points in the opening stanza. He also added a career-high and team-high nine rebounds. With six made 3-pointers, Murray broke the single-season freshman record for made 3-pointers.

It was his third 30-point game of the season, two points shy of his career high. It was his 14th game this season with at least 20 points and his eighth game in a row. It’s the longest streak since Jodie Meeks had nine consecutive 20-point games in 2008-09.

Kentucky leads the league with nine total weekly honors this season. In addition to Murray’s four, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis has garnered three honors, while freshmen Skal Labissiere and Isaiah Briscoe have both been tabbed SEC Freshman of the Week once this season.