The Cats are riding a two-game losing streak into what’s turned into one of the more challenging games on UK’s schedule. Texas A&M has won three straight, including an 81-80 win at No. 8 Auburn this past week.
A loss to the Aggies would give John Calipari his first three-game losing streak in as UK’s head coach.
That’s the last thing Calipari is worried about right now. Instead, he’s just trying to find a way to get his young Cats back into an offensive groove. As of late, they’ve looked lost and discombobulated to the point they look like a team that just began its season, not one that’s 30 days from selection Sunday.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, Calipari met with the media to preview UK’s matchup with A&M. Here is a recap of everything he said, courtesy of UK Athletics:
On experimenting with different lineups …
“I hate to do that with like six and seven games to go, but we’re still – it seems like every team in the country is struggling, and the veteran teams are the ones who are doing well. We’re all probably trying to do the same thing. How are we going to get this, the dots – cross the t’s, dot the i’s, connect everything. The kids are trying. It’s just, it’s not easy.”
On if Texas A&M qualifies as a veteran team …
“Yeah. Now that they’re healthy, they’re winning games. They were a top-five team to start the year and now they can go on a run of games and all of a sudden you turn around and they’re back to being a top-10 team. It’s like Tennessee, they’re very – they’re a top-15 team. They’re a top-10 team. They came in and beat us. (We) had our chances. This will be a hard game. It’s on the road.”
On the team struggling to earn assists …
“We’re still not there, and part of it – when you miss all of these shots, like wide open, guys miss shots, Those are all assists. So, when you miss seven or eight or nine that are wide open, and even if you make four or five of them, it makes a big difference in your assists. Some of it is that. Others are still not as willing as we need them to be. But, we’re going to keep working on it.”
On league opponents trying to slow UK down offensively …
“Not all of them. There are some that are going to play us fast. It’s good though because in the NCAA Tournament, that’s the way the game is going to be played. It’s not going to be run up and down the court and go crazy. It’s just not going to be. It’ll be a little closer to this, so they’re learning. We’re figuring it out. Late-game stuff we still have to get better at. Understandable we’re not where we need to be.”
On the shooting drills and conditioning at practice …
“Here’s the thing I know that you don’t do. You keep working on it. You get them to focus. You do numbers so that they can see improvement. But you don’t, whether it be foul shooting or shooting – if you make a big deal out of it, it gets worse. This should be a good shooting team, BUT we’re so long and active it doesn’t need to be a great shooting team.
“There are teams out there that really have got to make 12, 13, 14 3s. We’re not one of them. But, we’re a good shooting team that’s just not making shots. I hate to tell you, they’re open and some of them are missed badly, and that worries me with some of these guys. How did you miss that that badly? What is – where is your mindset right now? Because most of shooting is in their mind.”
On if some of the players don’t have confidence shooting the ball …
“I don’t know if it’s confidence; some of it’s shot preparation. They’re not ready to shoot. We had a guy standing straight up, the ball came back to him, and he and to dip, go, bang, and then the ball missed badly. I would say that was more of the preparation than confidence.
“But, you know, we should be a better shooting team. Look, we have time. I’ve been through this with a couple teams here, and I haven’t lost any faith. I’m looking around saying, ‘I’m not worried about anybody else in the country. Let’s just get our thing right.’ And it’s not game-to-game; it’s, are we getting better? If we’re getting better the rest of the stuff will start taking care of itself.
“We do have to get better late in the game. Some games we’ve been pretty good, other games we’ve been pretty bad. We’ve got to get more consistent late in the games.”
On if the team needs a little positive reinforcement now …
“We need to win a game. You’re right. Like to, but what if we really play well, something crazy happens and you get beat? You move on to the next game, but you know we’re getting closer. Just stay with it, and if you happen to play poorly and win a game, you have to say, ‘Guys, it’s a great win, but this is not going to do it. It’s not what we’re doing and where we’re trying to go with this.’ You want to win every game, but when you’ve got a team this young, it’s just are you getting it? When are we really going to get what we’re trying to do together?”
On if he’s found anything new in player combinations that he likes …
“Well, I liked the fact that they competed. There’s a competitiveness with it. We’re still – I’ll do some stuff today just to try to see what it looks like and try to get guys comfortable playing together. Jarred (Vanderbilt) just joined us and it’s been hard because you’re trying to get him in but you’re trying to figure out where to play him and how to play him. And Quade (Green) comes back now and now he and Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) together look pretty good on the court together. We haven’t had that in a while. You know Nick (Richards) played better last game.
“We haven’t had consistent play out of any player and that’s why it becomes game to game. You’re just trying to figure out who is playing well, what group is playing well, and that is an added issue that we are having right now. And again, if you are playing within three to five percent of who you are, it’s fine. But when you have these fluctuations, it’s hard on everybody. Like, it is hard on every other player on the team. And being more consistent, being more prepared for the game, being more focused in preparation, pregame routine; maybe you need to change it. We are talking all that stuff. These guys are so young.
“Now I’ll ask you because I know you really don’t know anything, but when I ask you this question – ‘Why would NBA teams and NFL teams play music during practice?’ How about we ask the retired one (Alan Cutler)? Why do you think they do that? [Reporter: Because that’s how they shoot when they are screwing around with themselves so it’s a comfort zone.] Are they singing the songs in practice or are the concentrating on practice and it maybe gets them in a different mindset? Are they dancing?
“So the music is playing in the NBA practice facility and the guy is dancing. No, they are not singing the rap song. There are guys who go out with headphones and they shoot with them on. They are not singing; they are trying to block everything out and get themselves in a zone. Before Philadelphia played New England, you think they were joking around in the locker room? You think there was joking around in the locker rooms to lighten things up? And if somebody did, what would have happened?
“There would have been a scuffle in the locker room. See, we don’t – all this stuff is like new. They’ve never been like this is how you do this. And when you explain it to them, they kind of, ‘Oh.’ And I’ll say it again, I got great kids. I’m just trying to figure this out. We all are. I’m trying to figure them out. They are trying to figure themselves out. They are trying to figure each other out and we are getting better. Our defense is getting better. We got to make some shots.
“At some point you are going to have to drop some shots. And the games that we have really played well, we made some shots. And they are all capable of that. I’ve got five guys in there that are capable shooters, more than capable shooters, but we’ll see. Today’s practice gets us ready. All I want them to worry about is today. Don’t worry about tomorrow, next week, the following week, the conference tournament. Just worry about today.
“Let’s try to get better. Thanks.”