Losses, especially conference losses, hurt both team and fan alike. Kentucky’s surprising defeat at the hand of the Auburn Tigers last Saturday stung, but cannot be dwelt on by the Big Blue Nation or the young men on the basketball court. There are still games to be played, including another tough road contest this Thursday at Arkansas.
Kentucky Wildcats assistant coach John Robic filled in for John Calipari at this afternoon’s press briefing and provided a preview of the Razorbacks as well as his thoughts on a variety of other subjects.
Bud Walton Arena is a tough place to play and the team that calls it home does not make getting a win there any easier.
"Arkansas is shooting the ball really well", said Robic on the Razorbacks ability to drain shots from deep. Robic also remarked that this Arkansas team has the best collective pair of shooting eyes of any Mike Anderson team.
The Cats need to be on high alert for Anthlon Bell and Dusty Hannahs.
"If you look at their (Arkansas) stats they take the majority of their threes. Those took young men are shooting at a high percentage. I would call them both elite shooters; both off the dribble and off the catch. Their teammates do a good job finding them open", said Robic.
Then, of course, there is the Hogs trademark press.
The key to beating Arkansas’s full court defense, according to Robic, is for the Wildcats to "be willing to attack it, have great spacing and be strong with the ball."
Kentucky’s scrappy point guard is one of the few steady positives so far during this up and down season, but John Calipari said in the past that Ullis tries to hard and sometimes is too critical of himself.
Coach Robic differed with this boss and praised Ullis’ drive.
"Well, first of all Tyler wants to win", said Robic, "He’s doing what it takes to try to win. There are points of time, even in practice, that he needs to shoot the ball and passes on a shot because he feels like he doesn’t need to shoot every ball. He’s so competitive. The last couple of days we’ve been scrimmaging and he’s been so competitive."
Ullis’ competitive edge pushes the rest of the team in practice and this is good because Robic said the rest of the team needs to step up to take some of the weight off of their floor leader’s shoulders.
"I think it’s a responsibility that everybody on the floor try to take that away from him whether it’s passing up an open shot, to making a pass for an easier shot. I think that as a group that have to be held accountable for what they are supposed to do. Not only for them but for the betterment of the team", he said.
A Young Team on the Road
Kentucky is about to embark on the 4th of 6 road games to start SEC play.
The young Wildcats have struggled but are starting to realize that every road contest is going to be a war. Robic said the key to winning such games is for Kentucky to have "more energy and more excitement" than their opponent.
Robic thinks that the team is beginning to understand that.
This week Kentucky pulled the dreaded Thursday night, Saturday afternoon slot for their two games.
Thankfully, the Arkansas game is at a decent hour so the team should be well rested by the time they take the floor against Vanderbilt, said Robic.
The Wildcats blew a 20-point lead against Mississippi State and a 12 point lead against Auburn so the team has spent time with the staff breaking down film and focusing on what is a "winning play" and what is not, said Robic.
The team is starting to recognize their mistakes on both sides of court in crunch time, which is good news, said Robic, but he also cautioned the team has to do it during games and not just in practice.
Along with Ullis, junior forward Derek Willis played a tremendous game against Auburn, notching his first career double-double with 12 points and 12 boards. He provided UK with a much-needed spark off the bench, even if the Cats came up short.
Robic said that Willis "is in a great frame of mind" and that his energy level has carried over the last two days of practice, especially "playing above the rim" and "rebounding the ball with both hands".
"He was playing way above the rim. He made very easy plays. He made a crazy play in practice yesterday, but he just said he lost his mind. But if he can simplify things, at 6-9 he can stretch the defense. If you’re telling me he can go in and get six, seven, eight, nine, 10 rebounds – I know he had 12, I think the other day, which we needed them. That’s a big boost."
The latest word on Dominque Hawkins from Coach Robic is that he is "participating in non-contact drills." The junior guard has yet to play since suffering a high ankle sprain two weeks ago, but has been practicing for about a week now. It's still very much up in the air if he plays Saturday.