Kentucky Coach John Calipari put a premium on competitive spirit as his team prepared to play the rest of the season without star freshman Nerlens Noel.
Beginning with Saturday’s game at Tennessee, the Cats must “just fight,” he said Friday. “Battle and compete.”
Noel’s season ended Tuesday at Florida when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. That removed UK’s leader in rebounding, shot-blocking and steals. He was also averaging 10.5 points.
“We can make up the rebounds and points,” Calipari said. “Blocks are not what you’re going no make up for.”
Noel led the nation in blocks (4.4 per game).
Fellow freshman Willie Cauley-Stein figures to replace Noel as starting center. Noting how many have written UK off because of Noel’s injury, Cauley-Stein embraced an us-and-the world attitude.
Of Noel’s injury, Calipari said, “It can bring you together or separate you.”
Cauley-Stein has scored double-digit points in UK’s last three games.
Calipari suggested that Cauley-Stein could contribute more effectively in ways that Noel could not. He was not asked to elaborate.
But UK is not looking for one player to simply replace Noel, the coach said.
“(UK) just wants everybody to do a little bit more,” he said.
When asked if Kentucky might play more zone, Calipari said, “Maybe, maybe, maybe.” He noted that UK had worked on zone, though not in anticipation of a season-ending injury to Noel.
Of the challenge of playing the rest of the season without Noel, Calipari said, “I’m not afraid of it.”