For Kentucky fans hoping for a quick rebound from last week’s upset loss at UCLA, Wednesday’s 88-67 win over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels was not the effort they were looking for.
The Wildcats looked flat out sluggish at times on defense and were thoroughly outworked by the Colonels during several stretches of the game. John Calipari’s team has little time to regroup because they face a veteran, talented Arizona State team Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena.
Coach Cal met with the press earlier this afternoon to preview the Sun Devils and more.
The Sun Devils are coached by Duke legend Bobby Hurley, who coached the Buffalo Bulls teams that gave UK all they could handle last season at Rupp. Coach Calipari thinks that the Arizona State is miles ahead of that Buffalo team.
"This is an NCAA Tournament team. They’re far advanced from us. This is a junior, senior team with a new coach, but the whole thing is that we’re going to guard in the half court, we’re going to give them one tough shot, we’re going to rebound like crazy, we’re going to play loose offensively. They’re going to play loose offensively, they’re going to play pick-and-roll, shoot 3s. I mean, they’re a good team."
Hurley’s team will spread the floor and use a lot of pick and rolls against Kentucky; something the Wildcats struggled with against EKU. Calipari thinks that the Sun Devils blue-collar mindset is what makes them such a difficult matchup for UK.
"They’re going to be really physical, they’re going to be gritty and they’re going to make us play defense."
He also said, "This is going to be a really hard game, but it’s what we need"
So far during the young season, Kentucky has shot a horrendous 28 percent from the three-point line. Calipari was blunt when describing his team’s shooting.
"Well, here’s what I would tell you: if you look at the top-20 teams – supposedly the top-20 teams; I’m not sure who is ranked what – we’re by far (the worst)."
Still, Calipari reiterated that he is not worried about his team’s long range shooting.
"And again, we have good shooters not making shots right now. They’re making them in practice. My concern is not that."
He also conceded that his trio of guards (Briscoe, Murray and Ulis) are playing heavy minutes and that fatigue may be affecting their shooting. Calipari also praised his team’s ability to get into the paint for layups.
"But I’ll say this: we are still getting to the rim. We are still shooting layups."
Cal also admitted junior swingman Mychal Mulder has had a chance to crack the lineup with his three-point specialty, but he's yet to hit them consistently since arriving at UK.
"We also need to find a couple guys on the bench. I told Mychal Mulder, I said, ‘Mychal, we’re not making shots. This is perfect for you to come in practice and show us. Make shots. Build confidence in me that I can put you in. Build confidence in your teammates.’
"And he missed his next eight shots, but that’s part of that growth of where he’s got to go with this, because we’re working for someone to come in and lift us off the bench. We have those six. Who’s seven, eight and nine?"
Mulder has rarely seen the floor this season, and if he's not consistently making shots in practice, he'll never get the chance to make them in games.
Senior forward Alex Poythress was the sole consistent Wildcat on the court Wednesday night. Poythress posted a spectacular double-double, 21 points and 13 rebounds. Calipari was ecstatic about Poythress’ play and said that the Tennessee native’s worst enemy continues to be himself on the court.
"I was so pleased and happy for him. Because most of it is him getting by himself. He’s got to get by that which is holding him back, which is himself. It’s not teammates."
Calipari hopes that Poythress will continue to focus on the man in the mirror.
"It’s just I’m looking at him saying, 'okay what can we be? What’s the best version of you?' And that’s all he needs to think about."