- Tennessee Volunteers - January 24, 2017 - 9:00 PM EST - Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn. - ESPN
John Calipari has referenced the phrase on a couple of occasions.
When his team is lacking something, Coach Cal will say they need more of this or more of that to “be the team we want to be.”
That team looks an awful lot like Alabama football.
Using the Crimson Tide’s national title run as a target, Coach Cal has praised Alabama’s steadiness and discipline as a means of inspiration for his team during the last week. Nick Saban’s team pummeled previously undefeated LSU on Monday in the BCS national title game, surrendering 92 yards and five first downs while committing just one penalty.
It was the type of dominance a coach fantasizes about.
“The focus of those players, the ability for the entire game to do their job … (a player) didn’t choose to do what he wanted to do; he knew what he was supposed to do and went out and did it every possession until the horn sounded,” Calipari said.
If the Wildcats want to “be the team we want to be,” ala national champions, Calipari said UK will have to mirror the Tide’s physical play and execution – on the hardwood, of course.
Kentucky has certainly shown signs of being the best team in the country with its balance and pieces, but the dominance hasn’t been consistent.
“You think about this team, if I could ever get them to that, wow,” Calipari said. “Now we’re what you all think we are. Right now teams are going to hang around with us. They’re going to have chances to beat us, chances for buzzer beaters, until we get to that point. We’re just not there yet.”
Case in point, Saturday’s game at Knoxville, Tenn.
Against a rebuilding Tennessee team, UK trailed for most of the first half and didn’t regain the lead until midway through the second stanza. Coach Cal said his team was “out-physicaled” and lacked the necessary toughness to win at times.
So, midway through the second half, Coach Cal tried to drive that point home by bringing up Alabama football again during one of his team’s timeouts.
“They executed,” Calipari told his players in the huddle. “The other team (LSU) was going wild, talking, jumping, hitting, shouldering, and Alabama focused on my job. They didn’t worry about the talking and all the other stuff and the hoopla.”
Kentucky pulled out the gritty road victory Saturday thanks to some brilliant play by a pair of freshmen, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis, but to beat the Syracuses, Ohio States and North Carolinas of the college basketball world, UK will need to repeat the final 10 minutes of the Auburn and Tennessee games for the entire 40 minutes.
That means getting a collective effort from the entire team. Up until Saturday, UK was the only team in the country with six guys averaging double figures. The scoring anomaly was a testament of great balance, but oddly this team has trouble getting all of its weapons firing at the same time.
On Saturday, leading scorer Doron Lamb and senior guard Darius Miller combined for just eight points on 2-of-11 shooting. Terrence Jones played well when he was in the game and finished with 10 points, but he was marred by foul trouble for most of the afternoon.
Just imagine if Calipari could get those three guys going at the same time as Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis.
“It’d be scary,” Calipari said.
Coach Cal said the collective consistency starts with physical play. Perhaps it’s no coincidence Alabama won the national title by physically dominating its opponents.
“If we want to be unique and special, we’re either going to get tougher and negate the physical play people are using on us or we’re just going to be another team out there trying to win as many as we can,” Calipari said. “That’s it.”
Lamb needs to ‘fight’ for starting spot
Lamb came off the bench for the second straight game Saturday against Tennessee. Calipari is hoping the move will motivate his leading scorer to bust out of a recent funk.
“I’m bringing him off the bench just to make him fight for the spot,” Calipari said. “Fight! If you want to start, fight for the spot. I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s still our leading scorer.”
The sophomore guard has led UK in scoring in six games this season and average 19.8 points per game during a five-game stretch in December.
Since the Samford game, however, Lamb hasn’t scored more than 14 points and is averaging 9.7 points in those six games. He’s 14 for 47 during that stretch, which has brought his average down to 14.6 points per game.
“He’s doing OK,” Calipari said. “He needs to get better. You’ve got a scoring guard that – there’s no one in this league that would say leave him alone. So when he’s out there they’ve got to play him, which opens up the court for everybody else. I have a lot confidence in him scoring the ball. He’s not doing it right now.”
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