LEXINGTON — Kentucky had just won by 32 points against Samford Tuesday night, but the postgame mood of the Wildcats did not reflect the point spread. After heading into the locker room with a 45-14 lead, the Wildcats only outscored Samford 43-42 in the second half, drawing the ire of Kentucky coach John Calipari.
The cause for his team’s sluggish second half, according to Calipari, was a lack of conditioning. He said that no player on the team could play for longer than three minutes at a time because they were so “out of shape.” With this in mind, he will institute “Camp Cal for the next three weeks,” which will get the players’ heart rate up to 175-180, according to the coach.
While lack of conditioning was pointed to as being the main culprit of how closely Samford played Kentucky in the second half, some of the same problems from the Cats’ two most recent losses to Baylor and Notre Dame persisted.
Kyle Wiltjer’s slump has been one of the most talked about issues this season. In Wiltjer’s first three games, he totaled 16-29 shooting for 55.2 percent shooting (12-19 from behind the arc for 63.2 percent). Since then, he has shot 1-for-5, 1-for-4, 0-for-4, 1-for-9 and 1-for-5 from the three-point line.
“I’m just trying to get a lot of extra work in to work my way out of this and become a better basketball player,” Wiltjer said.
That extra work begins and ends in the same place for Kentucky basketball players at the Joe Craft Center, about a 50-foot walk from their home at Wildcat Coal Lodge. According to Calipari, the players, including Wiltjer, haven’t been utilizing that opportunity as much as his team did last year.
“Last year (Jarrod Polson) and Kyle were in the gym as much as Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) and Anthony (Davis),” he said. “They have not been in the gym one night this year.”
What gives? Why are the hardest workers from last year not dribbling basketballs late at night, getting shots up hour after hour? Last year’s team had the “Breakfast Club.” But now, Calipari is saying his team is out of shape and his players aren’t getting in enough practice time.
“We’re just busy,” Wiltjer said. “We just really need to focus on making sure any time off we have, just getting in the gym. We just want to, going forward, keep that intensity and keep working hard.”
For players who are going through so-called slumps, the key has always been to get into the same kind of shooting rhythm the player is used to. Wiltjer says his mechanics haven’t changed since his three-point production started slipping earlier in the season. He says his focus is to just keep getting shots up and working on all aspects of his game to compensate for any lack of offense.
Although still struggling offensively against Samford Tuesday, Wiltjer produced otherwise with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal.
No matter the statistics, however, Calipari wants his team practicing more than the amount of time he is allowed to coach them per NCAA rules. That extra practice — what last year’s national champions were known for — is the key to breaking out of shooting slumps and building stamina. But it may also have a higher purpose than purely physical rewards.
“Some of it may be mentally, you’re not strong enough,” Calipari said. “You’re soft, so the conditioning is good. It makes you stronger mentally.”
Towns inks with Cats
As expected, not only did 7-footer Karl Towns Jr. of New Jersey announce Tuesday he will play his college basketball at the University of Kentucky, but also he confirmed he will reclassify from the 2015 recruiting class to the 2014 class.
Towns was the top-rated sophomore in the nation and likely now will be No. 1 in the 2014 class. He’s been compared to Anthony Davis, who led UK¿to the 2012 national title, because of his ability to play inside, block shots, handle the ball and hit outside shots.
Towns made the announcement in front of the entire student body at St. Joseph High School. He thanked his parents and teammates for their help.
“The first decision for me today is I am going to reclassify to the year of 2014. I¿made that decision with my family,” Towns said. “The second decision is the university I will attend and the university I have decided to play at is the University of Kentucky.”
He hugged his mom, who did an energetic fist pump after the decision, and then embraced his father, a former college player who once was third in the nation in rebounding.
He had more than 40 scholarship offers and basically had narrowed his list to Kentucky, Duke and Florida. However, St. Joseph athletics director Jerry Smith noted two weeks ago that Duke was the second choice with Florida and Michigan State also behind Kentucky.
— Larry Vaught