While the rest of the Commonwealth is scrambling to prepare for the upcoming holiday, the Kentucky basketball team is due to arrive back soon from an abridged break. The team needs to regroup from last week’s tough loss to Ohio State and start looking ahead to the looming matchup with the archrival Louisville Cardinals.
Coach John Calipari touched on those subjects and more earlier this evening when he met with the press at the Joe Craft Center.
Kentucky will face a tough Louisville team on Saturday and Calipari was blunt when he described what will happen if his team does not bring their A-game.
"If we don’t play well it’s going to be a really, really hard game for us."
The Cardinals match up well with Kentucky on the perimeter and Calipari sang their praises.
"They’re guards are playing well. They’re shooting the ball well, scoring well, and have three really good older players. They’re playing aggressively defensively."
Shutting down Damion Lee is essential for Kentucky to win. Calipari described Lee as "a catch-and-shoot guy, but he’s doing more than that right now. He has some size and they can throw him in the post when they need to. He’s done some good stuff."
Finally, Calipari said he hoped that Kentucky’s fans will not use the Katrina Powell scandal to mar the game time atmosphere at Rupp Arena.
"I would hope our fans – and again, you bring that up; it has not entered my mind. I’m watching tape. I think they’re doing a great job. I think Rick’s doing a great job with his team. And I would tell our fans enjoy the game. Don’t be bringing in banners. Don’t be bringing in posters. Don’t. You don’t need to do it. Let’s just enjoy the basketball game. Let’s be classy. We have the classiest fans, and I would expect that’s how they would be during this game."
On Kentucky’s Struggles
Even with a 9-2 record, the Big Blue Nation is antsy to see a change in the Cats’ play.
In typical Cal fashion, UK’s head coach voiced confidence in his team.
"I’ll say it again: I like the team. I like the kind of kids that we have. I like the kind of talent we have. I like my team. We’re just not where we’re going to be in a month. Right now it’s, OK, we have a tough opponent coming up, how are you going to respond? We’ll throw them out there and let them know that we’re with them. I believe in these guys."
A big problem for the Cats is fatigue.
"I think the guards are playing too many minutes, so we have to figure out ways of cutting their minutes down. I thought Marcus (Lee) and Alex (Poythress) played too many minutes at the end of the game. The two or three plays that we had to make, they didn’t have the energy to make the plays. I’m probably playing them too many minutes right now", said Calipari on the issue.
Calipari attributed much of that to the fact that the team still does not have a set rotation this far into the season and that it is still a work in progress, especially where certain players fit into the lineup.
"Do we leave Marcus Lee at the No. 5? If you watched him in the games, he played well when he was under that basket. Because when you have him out on the floor, they’re not really guarding him at all. So now you put him there. And if you do that, OK, Alex can play about 22, 23 minutes, 24. Do you put Derek at the other No. 4? Like I said, we’re tweaking stuff."
On the Team’s Christmas
Both the team and Coach Cal needed a few days off.
"I think every team that I’ve had it’s been a good time to get away. You know you go hard for a couple of months and you just get a couple of days away from each other, and you come back excited because it’s a long season", said Calipari.
Most of the team went home to visit their families except a few of the international players.
"I think every team that I’ve had it’s been a good time to get away. You know you go hard for a couple of months and you just get a couple of days away from each other, and you come back excited because it’s a long season", said Calipari
The team will practice on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
On Other Odds and Ends
Coach Cal confirmed that Derek Willis was hampered by an ankle injury against Ohio State and that is why he did not play.
"Derek was hurt. Did not practice the day before. Limped around the shoot around. That’s why I didn’t put him in the game. And that hurts us. He gives you another guy that stretches the floor."
Calipari also provided an update on how Tai Wynyard has progressed.
"He’s just got to get into shape. It’s just hard playing the way that we play at the level that we play. We’ll have to see. I haven’t seen him really practice. These few days will be the first time that he’s with us practicing."
Cal also added that assistant coach Kenny Payne spent extra time working with Wynyard.