Cal, Aaron downplay UK becoming last team to remain unbeaten

After a 70-55 victory over Alabama Saturday, Coach John Calipari and guard Aaron Harrison downplayed the significance of Kentucky becoming the last remaining unbeaten team in Division I college basketball. The only other unbeaten, Virginia, lost to Duke on Saturday.
“Older guys know this doesn’t really mean anything,” Harrison said. “It really gets serious in late February, March and, hopefully, early April.
“It’s cool to be undefeated, but that’s not why we put on the uniform.”
Calipari made light of the Kentucky being the only unbeaten team. He noted that South Carolina’s women’s team is undefeated.
“I think our rifle team is undefeated,” he said before turning serious. “The question is, how good can we be. And I don’t know yet. I’m trying to get guys to go to that next level. I’m prodding and pushing and screaming and yelling because I really do want to see how good can we really be.”
Calipari noted that no team can be perfectly consistent in its play throughout a season.
“You’re not going to be great every night out, if you play 30 games in a season (or) 31, four or five of them are going to be really high level. Four or five of them are going to be so bad you just hope the other team stinks too. And then the rest of them are all going to be within a range of four or five percent. That’s the season.”
Calipari cited UK’s games against Kansas and UCLA as superior, games against Columbia and Buffalo as lacking.
“I would imagine there’s going to be a league game or two before we finish we’ll be down at half and have to see if we can fight to come back and we’re not at our best,” he siad. “It’s just how the season goes.”
The talk of a 40-0 record is not the primary goal, Calipari said.
“We’re playing every game to win,” he said, “. . .I told them last night, we lose today, we’re 20-1. So?
“. . . Right now, you should just try to find out how good you can be. And that’s all we’re doing.”

Cal: Depth can help in UK stretch of 3 games in 6 days

After beginning a stretch of three games in six days with a 69-53 victory at Missouri Thursday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted the depth his team enjoys.
“Thank God we have a lot of guys,” Calipari said. “. . .. We had 10 guys score a basket. I love that.”
Kentucky plays again Saturday against Alabama, then plays Tuesday against Georgia.
Calipari said he would likely shorten Friday’s practice in order to help the team get through such a busy stretch.
He lauded Alabama and Georgia as two of the better teams in the SEC. He predicted tough, physical games.

Melvin Booker makes fashion statement at UK-Mizzou game

Melvin Booker made a fashion statement at Thursday night’s Kentucky-Missouri game that captures his dual roles as Mizzou icon and father of UK freshman Devin Booker.
The elder Booker wore a shirt that had the message “A House Divided” with UK and Mizzou logos on the chest.
The rationale for the shirt? “Keep everybody happy,” he said with a smile.
A member of Missouri’s All-Century Team, Melvin Booker led the Tigers to a 14-0 record in Big Eight Conference play in 1993-94.
Earlier this week, Devin Booker became only the fifth player named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week three straight weeks. He had made a surreal 59.1 percent of his three-point shots (13 of 22) in SEC play going into the game at Missouri.
Melvin Booker said he kept his distance as he and his son came to Columbia this week.
As for the T-Shirt, Melvin Booker said he called a friend who makes shirts to come up with something to mark the occasion.
The elder Booker called it “a special shirt for a special game.”

Booker: ‘I still have love for Missouri’

Freshman Devin Booker made it clear. Kentucky’s game at Missouri Thursday night is not just another game.
His father, Melvin Booker, played for Missouri in the early 1990s. He was the Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and All-American in 1994. He was among 20 players named to the Mizzou All-Century Team.
“He still have love for Missouri,” Booker said of his father.
When asked if his father will wear blue at the game, Booker said, “I guess we’ll see.” The UK player said he asked his father the same question.
Missouri recruited the younger Booker since he was a seventh grader. Booker, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., was recruiting by Michigan since the eighth grade.
“I still have love for Missouri,” Booker said. “. . . They still have a place in my heart also.”
Kentucky, which began its recruiting effort when Booker was entering his senior year of high school, seemed the better destination. It took much father-son conversations to arrive at that conclusion.
“We talked together for days on days,” UK player said.
When asked if he felt sympathy for Missouri, which put in so much recruiting effort only to see an 11th-hour entry by Kentucky lead to Booker’s commitment, Calipari said. “Well, I’ve been on that side.”
Calipari meant his first head coaching job at UMass, and later his tenure at Memphis.
“I hate to tell you, no one felt sorry for me,” he said.

Cal: UK should not become bored with winning

After a more-difficult-than-expected victory over the Boston Celtics last weekend, the high-flying Golden State Warriors spoke of how a team can become almost bored with winning.
Might the same apply to Kentucky, which takes a 19-0 record to Missouri on Thursday night?
“I’ve never heard of that,” freshman Devin Booker said Monday. “I don’t think we’d get bored of winning. I don’t think any of us want to lose.”
As the Warriors explained it, a team does not necessarily want to lose. the routine of winning game after game can numb whatever areas of the mind might that ignite competitive instincts.
“We have the challenge of not getting bored with winning,” Steph Curry said after the 114-111 victory over Boston. “It sounds weird, but you have to stick with the program and know that every night is not going to be pretty. We have to bring the energy ourselves.”
UK Coach John Calipari has been saying much the same thing as Kentucky won game after game. Eight times the Cats have inflicted the opposing coach’s most lopsided defeat since he arrived at his respective school. That includes the 86-37 romp on Jan. 13 against Missouri, whose first-year coach is Kim Anderson.
Calipari sounded wary.
“The last game helps them a lot more than it helps us,” he said. “. . . I’m just focused on us getting better. That’s all it is.”
Calipari defined the standard Kentucky tries to meet as “Just energy. Our whole thing is if we play with energy, we have a chance.”
When asked about an undefeated record of 40-0 as a motivational tool, Calipari said, “It’s not what I want. It’s what they want.”

Mizzou coach lauds UK’s ‘phenomenal’ defense

Missouri Coach Kim Anderson apparently hasn’t forgotten his team’s 86-37 loss at Kentucky two weeks ago. On the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference Monday, he lauded UK’s defense.
He twice used the word “phenomenal” when asked about the defense.
UK has given up an average of 50.8 points a game. “That’s phenomenal,” Anderson said.
UK has limited opponents to 32.2-percent shooting accuracy, well better than the record in the shot clock era (35 percent by Stanford in 1999-2000).
Kentucky’s defense “has been phenomenal,” Anderson said.
When a reporter seemed to suggest that UK’s perimeter defenders aren’t as appreciated as the big men, Anderson chuckled.
“I think the whole team is pretty good,” he said. “Perimeter. Front line. Whatever you want to call them.”
Of the blowout loss in Rupp Arena, Anderson said Missouri got into “scramble mode” too often.
As has been suggested in SEC teleconferences earlier this season, Missouri decided to treat a loss to UK as an aberration, not a game from which to draw conclusions about your team.
“We, obviously, addressed it,” Anderson said of reviewing the loss at Kentucky. “But we didn’t prolong our discussion on it.”

Cal suggests ways for Booker, college basketball to improve

On Monday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari suggested ways that freshman guard Devin Booker and college basketball can improve.
During the Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference, Calipari was asked how Booker can improve. Booker was named SEC freshman of the week for a third straight week, and for the fourth time in the past six weeks.
“I want to see him attack the basket better,” Calipari said. “I don’t want him to just be a catch-and-shoot player.”
Calipari likened Booker to teammate Aaron Harrison. Each should look for driving opportunities as well as jump shots. “Don’t settle,” the UK coach said.
Not for the first time, Calipari acknowledged his surprise at how well Booker has defended.
The UK coach said that during the recruiting process, he saw Booker play in a game featuring 40-year-olds, including his father, Melvin Booker. The younger Booker could not defend in that game, Calipari said in jest.
As for college basketball improving, Calipari said he’d like to see college teams play exhibition games. “Like the NBA,” he said.
Those games could be on weekends in the pre-season, he said.
Not for the first time, Calipari suggested that the NCAA permit teams to play exhibitions in foreign countries more often that the current limit of once every four years.
He cited the telecasts of UK’s games in the Bahamas before this season. “College basketball should own August,” Calipari said.
As for the much-discussed proposal to reduce the shot clock from 35 seconds to, say, 30 seconds, Calipari seemed to shrug. “In most cases, we’re going to shoot it within 20 seconds,” he said.

UK returns to scene of last season’s most memorable game

With a game at South Carolina on Saturday, Kentucky returns to the scene of last season’s most memorable game.
Of course, Aaron Harrison’s three straight game-winning shots in the 2014 NCAA Tournament were historic. Yes, the NCAA Tournament victory over unbeaten Wichita State was that rare competition in which both teams play at a championship level.
But for pure drama, a visit to the theater of the absurd and a heart-warming fairy-tale-come-true ending, Knetucky’s 72-67 loss at South Carolina last season cannot be topped.
The loss to a South Carolina team going nowhere was the nadir of Kentucky’s season. UK appeared headed in the same direction as Coach John Calipari got ejected.
Afterward, guard Aaron Harrison spoke of a “great story” that the Cats would write.
“He didn’t say it would be a great story,” Calipari said Thursday. “What he said was we can do what we want. We can write our own story.”
Actually, Harrison said UK would write a great story. At least that’s how it was reported. “It’s frustrating to lose,” he said in the post-game news conference. “But we know what we can do. It is going to be a great story.”
That puzzled reporters who attended the news conference. A month later, Harrison’s words seemed prophetic as UK advanced to the Final Four.
When asked Thursday about his brother’s words, Andrew Harrison said he was not surprised. “Because I know he has the ultimate belief in himself. That’s how you have to be.”
Until Aaron Harrison made his stunning proclamation, the night’s most surprising development was Calipari’s ejection. He had been nearly manic on the sideline. Coincidentally or not, the Cats rallied with the calmer John Robic in charge.
Andrew Harrison insisted the change at the bench made no difference.
“No,” he said. “We just decided we had to play hard. It had nothing to do with the coaching change or anything like that.”
A moment later, a question about Calipari’s ejection caused Andrew Harrison to quip, “I would have tossed him, too.
“He was frustrated like the rest of us. You have to understand.”
During the NCAA Tournament, then UK guard James Young explained the team’s turnaround to Calipari’s new-found ability to “chill.”
When asked about that, Calipari said, “I just got him to ‘un-chill'” as a key to the revival. “As soon as he ‘un-chilled,’ we got really good.”
Calipari seemed to acknowledge his sideline demeanor changed. But, he insisted the change had nothing to do with discovering it was better to use a lighter touch with the players.
“I had lost an edge for this reason,” he said. “I hadn’t been able to figure out what was the issue. When I figured out what the issue was, what the two or three things I had to do as a coach, then I was comfortable.”
This season’s team, though 17-0 and ranked No. 1 every week so far, also has unanswered questions.
“I’m still not sure, offensively, how we need to play with this group,” Calipari said.
Maybe for a second straight season, a game at South Carolina will help Calipari and UK find answers.

Cal wants Towns to be nation’s best big man by end of season

After Kentucky beat Vanderbilt Tuesday night, Coach John Calipari set a high (the highest?) standard for Karl-Anthony Towns to meet.
“By the end of the season, I want Karl to be the best big man in the country,” Calipari said. “That he plays the pick-and-roll as good as any big man. See, if you can’t play pick-and-roll, you understand that the next level it’s you’ve got an issue.
“I want him to be someone that when you watch him, he’s unbelievable in pick-and-roll. That if you don’t double-team him in the post, he’ll score.”
Calipari acknowledged that Towns is a freshman, and thus has much room for growth.
“Physically, he’s not mature enough in those legs,” Calipari said. “It’s hard for him to stay down and fight. He wants to do it with his upper body.”
Towns, who had four points, four rebounds and a career-high seven blocks, accepted Calipari’s goal of being the best big man in the country by season’s end.
Although he’s played well and inspired talk of being among the first picks in this year’s NBA Draft, Towns said, “You hold yourself to the Kentucky standard. . . . This ain’t high school no more.”

Cal: Fear of free-throw shooting kept Lee out of final minutes vs. Vandy

Kentucky Coach John Calipari saluted Marcus Lee’s contributions to a 65-57 victory over Vanderbilt Tuesday.
“He was terrific,” Calipari said. Lee scored seven points, the most he’d scored since getting eight against North Carolina more than a month ago.
Lee also grabbed six rebounds, which equaled the most he’d had in a game since getting eight against Kansas more than two months ago.
But with Kentucky in a taunt game against Vandy, Lee watched the final minutes from the bench.
“What I was afraid of at the end of the game is that they were going to foul him,” Calipari said. “I didn’t want to put him on the foul line. I said, ‘Look, your free-throw shooting is 100 times better. But I don’t want to put you in this position. I’m not going to do that to you.’
“And that’s why I didn’t put him in at the end.”
Lee, who had made only four of 15 free throws this season going into the game, made one of two against Vandy.