In the shadow of John Wooden’s ghost and UCLA’s 11 NCAA Championship banners, the Kentucky Wildcats lost their first game of the season in a game that the Bruins controlled from start to finish.
John Calipari met with the media Tuesday afternoon to gives his perspective on the defeat as well as other topics.
The UCLA Loss
After tasting defeat for the first time this season, Cal says his young Wildcats have responded well to this setback.
"I think they watched the tape, they got it. We had a good practice yesterday. It was really grueling to be honest with you. It’s what they need and we’re trying to hold them to a high standard in what we’re accepting.
One player who's struggled to live up to expectations thus far is freshman Skal Labissiere, but Cal knows it's a process with him in the same way it was with big-time freshmen before him.
"Skal is going to take time. It’s a process. I’ve had guys here before, some guys get it quicker, Karl, some guys don’t get it quicker. It takes two or three years. It has nothing to do with skill. It has nothing to do with his ability to score, hooks and all of that, or block shots. We’ve got a great, great group of kids who want to do well, but this is really hard stuff we do."
Marcus Lee Injury Update
Calipari said that the loss of Marcus Lee early in the game to a head injury and the team’s inability to adapt had a large part to play in the ten point loss at Pauley Pavilion.
"With Marcus (Lee) being out, you’re one short. Then guys had to step up and play and they didn’t. And so we had three or four guys who didn’t do the things that we needed to do without Marcus."
What the Cats specifically missed from Lee was his offensive rebounding.
"Marcus gives us free baskets because of his offensive rebounding. We got none of that when he was out", said Calipari.
Coach Calipari also said that UCLA simply outplayed his team once Lee left the game.
"They outplayed us. They beat us to every 50-50 ball. When you’re shorthanded you’ve got to be really tough. Physically and mentally tough from shot selection on offense to not rebounding the ball."
Coach Cal didn’t get into the specifics of Lee’s injury and admitted he wasn’t even sure what it exactly was.
"He got hit in the head. I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about. I don’t have any idea. You’ll have to ask the doctors."
Calipari also confirmed that Lee has not practiced this week either.
"He has not (practiced) Hopefully today we’ll see if he can do anything (today)."
Kentucky’s Post Play
All season long, Kentucky’s opponents have exploited the Wildcats' lack of bulk in the post.
Calipari does not think that size is the issue for Kentucky’s big men because he’s seen thinner players go to war in the paint.
"Just because you are skinny doesn’t mean you don’t battle. I’ve seen them battle."
Aggressive play starts in between the ears according to Coach Cal.
"Some of it has to be your inner dialogue. What are you exactly saying to yourself when a shot goes up? What are you saying when it’s transition and you’re flying? What are you saying to yourself when another team is starting to beat you to balls?"
Calipari reiterated that a "battling" mindset is his biggest issue with his team and that it will be the difference maker for them this season.
"This whole thing is battle and fight and come up with 50-50 balls, dive on the floor. You’ve seen my teams. Are we diving on the floor? What aren’t we doing? All that gritty stuff is what will win games and lose games."
As for the 'Cats' next opponent, EKU is a scrappy team that loves shooting the three-ball and forcing turnovers, two things that young teams like UK can struggle to adjust to.
"Now we’re playing a team in Eastern Kentucky who should be 9-0. Scoring in bunches, shooting 45% from the three. Athletes at all the positions."
The 'Cats have faced some pressure from opposing teams, but the Colonels really like to press and trap teams up and down the court.
"They scramble the defense, they press, they trap on different opportunities. They switch a lot. They switch a lot, which means you have to try to take advantage of stuff. They’re a good team. They’re playing good right now."