Back on track, Calipari wants Cats to play ‘more deliberate’

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2023

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Kentucky coach John Calipari wasn’t happy with himself following a disappointing 89-75 loss to Missouri in its Southeastern Conference opener last Wednesday.

“I’m mad at myself because we needed to be playing more deliberate,” he said after the Wildcats got back on track with an 86-63 win over Louisville Saturday. “Playing faster and quicker and doing that, that’s all good, and you’re scoring 60. We played deliberate, which is what my teams have done historically. Still play fast and shoot threes. We didn’t shoot as many (against Louisville), but we scored a lot of points playing deliberate. We needed to be more deliberate.”

Calipari and the Wildcats (9-4) face a proverbial uphill climb after falling out of the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this season on Monday after debuting at No. 4. The first full week of conference play this week features a home game against LSU Tuesday night, followed by a road encounter at No. 7 Alabama Saturday.

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The Tigers (12-1, 1-0) are much like Missouri, one of the surprise teams in the SEC. LSU brings a seven-game winning streak to Lexington and plenty of momentum after posting a 60-57 over No. 13 Arkansas last Wednesday in the conference opener for both teams in Baton Rouge.

“We’re such a work in progress that we’re just trying to get better every day in practice and in games,” LSU coach Matt McMahon said. “Obviously, the goal is to win while doing it, so I hope it’s something we can continue to build on.”

The Wildcats lost two of six games in December, including the letdown at Missouri. Still, Louisville coach Kenny Payne, a former assistant under Calipari for ten seasons, said Kentucky mimics the teams he helped coach while with the Wildcats.

“I don’t care what the critics say — I’ve watched them play, I know the coach, I know who the coach is, and I know who the players are,” Payne said. “They are one of the best teams in the country. It may not look pretty at times, but when you are playing a team like that, the number one thing that jumps off is the physicality and toughness of the game — the fight that you have to win a game — and the rebounding.”

Calipari hasn’t lost faith despite dropping the league opener last week. He added, “it takes time when you’ve got new teams to do this.

“I wish I was smarter…And quicker to pick stuff up,” he said. “But I seem to do the same thing…This is a good group. I can’t imagine our fans aren’t jacked that this is our team.They want to win every game. So do I. I want to win more than the fans want to win. But let’s get it right. Let’s go forward. Let’s see what we are. Let’s see with playing the way we’re playing now where we take things.”