UK Basketball: Calipari says SEC play will be 'tough' on Wildcats
Kentucky forward Terrence Jones tries to shoot against Arkan-sas-Little Rock¿s Michael Javes during the Wildcats¿ win Tuesday. Jones and the Wildcats begin Southeastern Conference play Saturday against South Carolina. (Victoria Graff)
“It is going to change for all of us. The toughness of play, the intensity of play. The buildings will be full. The talent level, the coaching is all going to elevate for all of us. I am anxious to see how many team will respond,” Calipari said Wednesday during the SEC coaches’ teleconference.
South Carolina (8-6) has won six of its last seven games, including a 79-51 decision over South Carolina State on Tuesday.
“They played Ohio State to a great game and had chances to win. I think you are talking about a tough team that come in here with a little bit of a swagger,” Calipari said. “Our last game, and really our last couple of games, have not been up to what we need to get in our league and play well and win.”
Second-ranked Kentucky (14-1) has had a propensity for letting less talented teams stay close and not putting games away. The Wildcats trailed Arkansas-Little Rock at halftime Tuesday in Louisville before a 24-1 win in the second half carried them to a 73-51 win. Calipari says there are still certain things his team just does not understand.
“Toughness and understanding of how teams are going to come after you. You can’t say you will just play in the second half. Can’t do it. Ain’t happening. Get a team down and you have got to bury them,” he said. “We’ll see. It’s all new to these guys.”
Freedom Hall: Calipari indicated Monday that attendance at Kentucky’s annual game in Freedom Hall could help determine if the Cats will continue to play an annual game there. The announced crowd of 14,747 was far under capacity.
Calipari said “I didn’t really look at the crowd,” but was told about what the attendance was.
“(Athletics director) Mitch (Barnhart) will probably discuss it with me at some point and look at what is right for this program. I will sit down with him and talk at some point. We haven’t right now,” he said.
One factor in the discussion will be the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC next season and what impact that will have on the current 16-game league schedule. Calipari expects the SEC to go to an 18-game schedule, something he is against.
"With what we've added, obviously football, baseball, women's basketball, men's basketball, you just added two top-20 teams," he said. “We've just gotten stronger.”
He says adding two teams along with the recent TV package the SEC added with ESPN has given visibility to every SEC team and benefitted teams that before maybe did not get as much national recognition.
“Lot of good stuff going on,” Calipari said.
But in Calipari’s mind, going to 18 league games would not be “good stuff” for the Kentucky basketball program because it would mean one more road game each season and one less home game.
“We don’t get as many non-conference games. Instead of two home games, we get one at home and one on the road,” he said of that scenario. “That’s not only lost revenue, but you also add two top-25 programs to my schedule. Can you play all these road games and all this stuff (like games in Freedom Hall) and add two top-25 teams? We have to make decisions on how to schedule without overloading players and putting this program in jeopardy.”
Working officials: Calipari, who has picked up two technical fouls this season, was asked on the teleconference about working officials during games in hopes of obtaining favorable calls for his team.
“I don’t think you are trying to get calls. You are just trying to make sure the game is called evenly,” he said. “If it is called one way at one end (of the floor), call it that way on both ends. You are not trying to get a call. You just want consistency. People are just looking for a fair game.
“In the SEC, we have the best officials. They are trying to bring in young guys so there is not a 67-year-old man trying to run up and down with these kids. Nobody is trying to get calls. You are just trying to make sure the game is called evenly.”
Lengthy Cats: Like other coaches who have faced Kentucky this season, Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields was impressed by the length of UK’s players during Wednesday’s game.
“With that kind of length, we were concerned about getting into our offense. I thought our guys did a good job of being able to do that for most of the game. We tried to tempo the game and get the ball from side to side. I thought in the second half they forced us into some late shot clock situations and we had to settle for shots, which we did not have to do in the first half,” Shields said.
“We want to play inside-out from a defensive standpoint and force them to take jump shots and not letting them get above the rim. They’re so good at transitioning, getting into the paint and getting it to the rim as well as in a half-court. Unfortunately for us, they are just so long and athletic. They have a guy like (Anthony) Davis get 16 rebounds for the game, I mean the kid is a phenomenal rebounder. (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist had 19 rebounds I think against Louisville on Saturday, and they have a number of guys who can really rebound.
“That just talks about their length and athleticism, and that was our focus coming into the game. We have to make sure that they get it into a body and make them create space. That’s a tough challenge to do, possession after possession.”