No one thought the Kentucky Wildcats would already have two losses in SEC play just three weeks into conference play.
Making those losses even harder to stomach is that they were to Auburn and LSU teams that were a combined 13-10 coming into conference play. Needless to say, UK has had some head-scratching losses to this point that has John Calipari scrambling to find a solution for these Cats.
Cal was on the SEC coaches teleconference Monday morning to discuss these issues while also looking ahead to the Arkansas Razorbacks and Vanderbilt Commodores, UK's next two opponents. Cal also discussed the progress Skal Labissiere is making in addition to Dominique Hawkins' recovery from a high ankle sprain.
On facing Arkansas and Vanderbilt this week:
"They're both gonna be very tough games. I think both coaches have their teams playing with confidence. Arkansas being able to throw it to the post, they have good shooters, they're still playing the way they play defensively and making you play basketball. And Kevin (Stallings) with the big kid (Luke Kornet) back, they're a different team.
"Now all of a sudden you see they've got some inside-outside stuff going and it's the team we all thought. What Vandy's gone through, it's all of us: If we lose a key player, we struggle. So both teams, I think, are formidable and going to be hard, hard games for us."
On Dominique Hawkins' recovery and importance to UK:
"Well, he's going to practice this evening. We're going to have individual workouts here in a little while and then film when I get back in and then we're practicing tonight. I texted him this morning. He told me that he would practice. I said, ‘Well, if you're going to only do one, do the evening practice.' So that'll be good because now we kind of get him back in there and see where he is physically.
"You know, it's just hard. The way these games are going, where everybody's on a high playing us, you cannot - whatever is holding you back from really high-energy play, you gotta figure it out. Because whether it's injury or anything else, mentally or - because we're facing teams that are playing like their lives depend on it and we've gotta be a desperate team also."
On UK's bad losses:
"We're still trying to figure it out. I look around and I think a lot of teams are in the same boat we're in, where you don't have a whole lot of margin for error. You're trying to really get guys to settle into roles and play in a way that's going to help our team win, yet have the competitive spirit that you're going after the guy you're guarding.
"Like, you and him are in a battle as much as you're in a battle with our team and their team. So we've got things to figure out: getting guys more consistent and what does that mean. How do we do that? Or if they're not capable of that, how do we play to win the game anyway?
"Every road game for us is a Super Bowl. And the guys that have been here know it; the young guys are finding that out. But it's a process. I'm not panicked in any way. I knew going into the season this wasn't last year's team. I've said all along: We're one of those teams, but we're not that good. I mean, we're good, but we're not like we were a year ago. And now it's just convincing guys there's gotta be a consistency of play.
"Your teammates have to know what you're bringing to every game, and at the very least it's fight and battle and compete. You don't have to make every shot. Matter of fact, you can miss most of them. But you've gotta battle. So we're still walking our way through that.
On Skal's progress:
"We're getting Skal - he's slowly coming back to where he can give us minutes. He had a couple blocks (at Auburn), had some opportunities, he dunked some balls. He has a big presence, but we gotta see: What are the max minutes he can go right now? Because I don't want to throw him to the wolves like we did early. It just didn't work. Now he's playing better and what's the max minutes we can go with him?
"Skal's finally got the pressure off of him, so just play now. And I don't want it to be 30, 40-minute games, because he's not ready for that. But if he can go 15, 20 minutes and really help our team, it's going to change his mentality and it's going to help us immensely."
On Tyler Ulis consistently playing great:
"Yeah, but here's what happens: When you have a couple guys that aren't doing what they're capable of doing every game, it puts him in a bad spot. He has to make plays or take shots that he shouldn't have to take, but he wants to win so bad that he does it anyway. Like, he was disappointed in himself (after Auburn loss) - ‘I should've done more.' He gets his shot blocked because we can't get anybody to attack the rim and he grabs it back and makes a basket.
"He makes a layup late that puts us up two - crazy. Then our team doesn't run back for the game-winner. Just don't run back. And he's gotta foul a guy and it ends up being an and-one, and that's how you lose? So we've got a lot of stuff that we're trying to work through. Some of it is just us settling into how we've got to do this and guys accepting it."
On Arkansas improving after slow start:
"They are. They've got guys, the kid from Texas Tech, he comes in and all of a sudden he's one of the best scorers in our league. You have the big kid who didn't play much last year - all of a sudden, he's like a force. They still defend, they still play hard, but you have a couple breakdown players who can go get them (buckets) when they need them. And all of a sudden, you're talking about a team that's playing confident. From where they were early to where they are now, you might as well not even watch early tapes."
On UK overcoming their issues and reaching their potential:
"Yeah, I do, but they've got to see them, too. I look at us and my mentality is. We'll break through at some point. I mean, I remember the team in '13-14. Oh, my gosh, we almost ran out of runway. And we got the plane down and then we got in the NCAA Tournament and we went to the final game and had a chance to win the national title.
"So is this team where that team was? Well, some of it are the same issues: winning time, consistency of play, toughness when we needed it. All stuff that we had to fight through. But, again, this team has different issues."