The Kentucky Wildcats are riding high after going 2-0 last week in what was arguably the best two-game performance this team has had.
Against two surging SEC opponents, UK won by an average of 16.5 points at Arkansas and vs Vanderbilt. This, after some wondered if the Cats were worthy of the top 25, but it's safe to say they silenced the critics for the time being.
But there's still much work to be done for this young UK squad, especially if they're to continue winning with a tough stretch of games upcoming. Hosting Missouri Wednesday night shouldn't be too tough, but then UK travels to Phog Allen Fieldhouse to face a top-10 Kansas Jayhawks squad that will be seeking revenge for last year's 72-40 shellacking the Cats put on them.
Then comes road games at Tennessee, who just beat a top-25 South Carolina team, followed by the Florida Gators coming to Rupp having just won three straight and are tied with UK for the SEC's second-best record.
John Calipari hopped on the SEC Coaches Teleconference Monday to talk about his Cats and the road ahead for them. Here's a recap of what he had to say.
On UK's date with Kansas:
"Any league game is important, and the challenge for us to go to Kansas is really gonna be difficult. We're just trying to get guys to just think about one thing: Continuous improvement. It doesn't mean by 100%. Let's just try to get better each day and we're doing that. And now we gotta, after a day off, stay that course and see what kind of practice we have today."
On how team has changed after losing at Auburn:
"I think they played with more of a sense of purpose. They zeroed in on doing their own (job), what their job was for our team. I think they took on responsibility, each player, instead of trying to say let one guy do everything. They took it on. On top of it, for two games I think we really guarded full possessions for the first time. We had breakdowns, but at least the mentality was, 'let's guard an entire possession.'"
"Well, you say they struggled. They had Texas A&M in a nail-biter. They had Georgia beat. They beat Auburn, a team that beat us. They were up 20 on Auburn. So they're capable of beating us. I'm more concerned about what we're doing and how we're playing. Their guard play has been good. A lot of pick and rolls, five-out motion.
"They do good stuff. They've been playing a lot of zone. Against Texas A&M, it was exclusively zone. But I think it's a league game, it's a hard game for us. Like I said, I'm concerned about my team just to keep the momentum going forward."
On committing just 13 turnovers in last two games:
"One of the things we've really, really zeroed on, and what we've been able to get through to guys over the years, is playing winning basketball, which means you make the easiest possible play you can make. You still make plays, but you're not looking for an ooh and an ah. You're not. You're just trying to make a basketball play so we can win.
"After Auburn, when we were up 12, there were 50 possessions after that, and half of them were losing possessions and we showed them. The other half were winning possessions. That means you had 10, 12, 15 turnovers. If you win, it's 40 winning possessions, maybe 10 losing possessions. We were 50-50, to the point of having a two-point lead with 1:30 to go we don't get back on defense.
"I mean, those are the kind of things that we just had to keep showing them, and now Isaiah (Briscoe) and Jamal (Murray), continue to teach them what winning basketball is and what it looks like. They're starting to get it."
On the idea of a ‘freshman wall':
"I don't. If it is, some of my freshmen have been my best players and the reality of it is as the season goes on that's when they get better. If a guy has a freshman wall it's probably more mental, that he's not ready for the overwhelmingness of what he's dealing with."
The issue here, when you come here you understand that we're everybody's Super Bowl. Every game is sold out, home and away. People watch to see if we're going to lose, unless they're Kentucky fans. It's what you deal with. Now, if that overwhelms you you're going to mentally be fatigued and mentally be tired, but you shouldn't have come to Kentucky if that's the case.
"I think, again, it's all of us here trying to convince these kids where they can go, that they have to earn it. There's no gifts here. You've got to work and your will has got to be stronger than your mindset to cave in. But all the players I've had, there was a lull in the season where it's like, ‘OK, am I going to step this up or am I going to surrender to it?'
"And in most cases our kids have stepped up."