Don’t worry about Kentucky coach John Calipari bringing up last season’s Southeastern Conference Tournament title game loss to Vanderbilt to motivate his team for Thursday’s SEC opener at Vanderbilt.
“They guys I’m coaching may not even know that game happened to be honest with you,” Calipari said Monday on the SEC coaches teleconference.
“I’ve watched all three games that we played with Vandy last year just to touch up on how we played them, how they played us. All three games were wars. We happened to win two. We could’ve lost all three — or we could’ve won all three. But they were wars, and so I expect nothing less than that,” Calipari said. “I imagine it’ll be sold out, be a great crowd.
“For us right now, we’re worrying about the process. We’re worrying about our effort. We’re worrying about us playing together, and execution and mental discipline, and let the other stuff take care of itself. We’re so far from, ‘Gotta win this game, gotta win that game.’ We’re just trying to be the best team in the gym that we’re playing in. That’s all we’re worried about right now.”
Kentucky plays in Nashville on Thursday night and then hosts SEC newcomer Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon.
“On the road at Vandy (on Thursday), always a tough game. They’re a team that’s going to run their stuff and shoot threes. And Texas A&M , it will be our first opportunity to play against them and really have an idea of how they’re going to play, (coach) but Billy (Kennedy) does a great job. Going to be two hard games for our team,” Calipari said.
“We’re starting four freshmen now. We’ve gone through some grueling workouts to try to see what we’re about and where we are. The only thing I can tell you is we still have a long way to go.”
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings appreciates the growing pains Kentucky has had, but he also sees an impressive team when he looks at UK.
“I think their length and athleticism is something that jumps out at you,” he said. “They are always a very good defensive team. It doesn’t matter who shows up in the Kentucky uniform. John always has them very well prepared and efficient.
“I kind of consider them a typical Kentucky team — long, athletic, fast. Make it hard for you around the goal.”
Freshman forward Alex Poythress is from nearby Clarksville, Tenn., and picked UK¿over Vanderbilt.¿He’s averaging 14 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and shooting 64.2 percent from the field. Yet Calipari has been pushing him to play with more effort and energy.
“I think if he gets to that point — and we have time. See, if it were normal and he wasn’t in a program that’s on warp speed, he’s fine, he’s a freshman and he’ll get it sooner or later. If not this year, next year or the following year he’ll get it and then he’ll become unbelievable,” Calipari said. “But this stuff’s on warp speed and you’re held to a different standard as a player. Here he is as a freshman practically getting a double-double and that’s not good enough.”
Calipari might have been implying it wasn’t enough for fans, but he quickly admitted it was not enough for him, either.
“Because it’s not his best. But he’s come a long way, he’s a great kid and he’s just got to develop a habit of really exerting and then subbing yourself. Exert yourself and then sub yourself. He’s only learning it, but he’s doing fine,” Calipari said.
Stallings said he’s only seen a few Kentucky game films and didn’t “feel comfortable” commenting specifically on Poythress’ play.
“They have got great players obviously. I¿saw projections where they would have three or four players go in the top 10 of the draft and Alex is one, so he must be playing well,” Stallings said. “We know we will have our hands full on Thursday for sure.”
Vanderbilt is being outrebounded 33.9-31.6 per game and is shooting 42 percent from the field compared to 41.2 percent for opponents. The Commodores are 89-for-251 from 3-point range while opponents are 71-for-226.
Kedren Johnson leads Vandy with 16.6 points per game while Kyle Fuller adds 11.9 points. Johnson has made 29 3-pointers and Fuller 12. Vanderbilt has nine players averaging 11 or more minutes per game.
“We have been pretty good at times and not so good at other times,” Stallings said.
Vandy has lost to Oregon, Davidson,¿Marist, Villanova, Middle Tennessee and Butler. Its best win was 66-64 in overtime against Xavier.
“We have been somewhat inconsistent, which is not atypical for a young team,” Stallings said.
He said he was not sure if he had “handled” things as well as he should have with a young team but likes the “coachability and attitudes” of his players.
“Even when things are not going the way we want, their attitudes have been spot on. They are eager to get better and remedy things that are wrong,” Stallings said. “I have no complaints. Experience only comes from playing.”
Vandy’s biggest problem has been scoring. The Commodores give up just 59.5 points per game, but are averaging only 59.7.
“Offensively there are times we are pretty solid and then there are times we have really struggled,” Stallings said. “Defensively, we have been fairly consistent, which is a nice surprise. Scoring has not been a problem around here the last few years so that has been kind of hard to take. But now we have to get better.”