LOUISVILLE – Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get a different opinion on just how unhappy John Calipari was in the halftime locker room as No. 2/2 Kentucky trailed Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday.
“I think that’s clear,” Anthony Davis said, “he was very angry with us.”
Said Calipari: “I wasn’t raising my voice that much. I just said, ‘Guys, you gave up 10 offensive rebounds. (Courtney Jackson) has seven offensive rebounds. He wants it. Does anybody want to guard the guy? Somebody step up and say I’ll take 12.’ That’s what I said.”
Whatever the case may be, Kentucky (14-1) played a much different second half in its annual game in Freedom Hall in Louisville. Shaking off their worst half of the season, the Wildcats awoke from a 30-27 halftime deficit and surged past Arkansas-Little Rock 73-51 in the final nonconference game of the year.
“In the first half we kind of struggled coming out of the gate,” Davis said. “They were making 3s and they were playing excellent. Every team is going to come out and play like that against us. In the second half we were doing a lot more of what Coach Calipari was telling us to do.”
Calipari’s fire in the locker room at halftime fired up the Wildcats, Davis said.
“When he gets angry, we get angry because he is angry,” Davis said.
Davis scored 16 points in the second half, many of them in the decisive 24-1 run. His six points – four on a pair of nasty alley-oop dunks –appeared to be the only energy and only thing keeping UK in the game in the first half.
“We just stepped up our intensity,” Davis said. “(Jackson) had like five offensive rebounds in the first half and no one was blocking him out. They were getting the 50-50 balls and diving on the floor. They had more energy and more toughness than us.”
UK seemed to get all the rebounds and 50-50 balls after halftime. Kentucky gave up just seven second-half boards en route to a 50-23 edge on the glass.
Astoundingly, the Cats out-rebounded the Trojans 24-1 over a 16-plus minute stretch from late in the first half until the 10:39 mark in the second half. The lone rebound for UALR during that domination was on the offensive glass, and UK turned a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead in the midst of that run.
Going back to last game, Kentucky has out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 26.5.
“I think that Anthony is way tougher than he was earlier and he comes up with balls, and Terrence (Jones) is going to crack it out and I thought that he did better today,” Calipari said. “He is going after some tough rebounds and they are pulling balls in. There have been a lot of missed shots on these teams we have been playing so there were a lot of opportunities for rebounds.”
Senior guard Darius Miller scored 15 points on the way to becoming the 58th player in program history to join the illustrious 1,000-point club. He was 6 for 11 from the floor and also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists.
“It’s an honor to be a part of something like this, especially in the type of program that we are in,” Miller said. “It feels good and I’m excited about it. I am just blessed to be a part of something like this.”
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Miller’s historic field goal came during the decisive run in the second half. His 3 from the left wing gave UK a 45-35 lead, and he would later hit a trey from the corner and dish out the final assist during Kentucky’s 24-1 run.
“We have to come out and we have to be prepared every game,” Miller said. “The whole team, we have to do a better job of coming out and taking care of business from the beginning.”
Arkansas-Little Rock played without Will Neighbour, the Trojans’ leading scorer, rebounder and top 3-point shooter. Without Neighbour, UALR had just two players who average double figures to counter the high-scoring Cats.
Even so, the Trojans had 14,747 fans at Freedom Hall on the edge of their seats early into the second half.
Jones, making his first start since the Chattanooga game, got going with three early points, but he picked up with his second foul with 14:44 left. Already off to a slow start, everything seemed to go south for the Cats at that point.
Twice midway through the first half Coach Cal called timeout as UALR pulled ahead with leads of five. After a steal by Chuck Guy and a layup by Taggart Lockhart to give the Trojans a 21-16 lead, Calipari was particularly fired up. He implored his team to pick up the pace.
“Don’t act like you are tired,” Calipari said he told his team. “If you are acting like you are tired come out. ‘I have to run like this.’ Well, then come out, you are tired. Don’t act tired and want to stay in the game. But we are breaking habits and playing pretty well in the second half and doing some good stuff.
Kentucky appeared to gain momentum when Davis dunked over a Trojan following a Jones 3-pointer, but Michael Javes halted the run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“You’ve got to give Little Rock credit,” Calipari said. “Their big guy (Neighbour) was out. If the big kid was here, we probably get beat.”
UK trailed 30-27 at the break with 13 turnovers and a 39.3 percent shooting mark.
“A couple of them were mad but they should have been,” Calipari said. “They didn’t take the challenge. A guy comes in and says I’m going right at you and you act like, ‘Well, I’ve got to act like I’m tired or I really don’t care so you go nuts so I can act like I don’t care.’ I don’t know where there starts but I don’t coach that way and my teams don’t play that way.”
Coach Cal feels pretty good about where his team is as it gets ready for Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener, but he continues to reiterate that his team has “a ways to go.”
“People will watch us play and say your team plays hard and they compete, but this team has about 40 percent they can grow,” Calipari said. “I’m not going to back up off them.”
MKG battling a pulled muscle
A game after scoring 24 points and 19 rebounds in the win over Louisville, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist struggled a little bit with six turnovers.
Calipari said he was playing with a pulled muscle.
“I don’t know if it is a pulled muscle or what in his chest area,” Calipari said. “It was last game that it happened but we are going to get him checked up and he didn’t feel right at halftime. I told them to give him some medicine to see if they could loosen it up. We will check on him tomorrow, but I think he will be fine.”
Kidd-Gilchrist still finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky back at No. 2