Cal: UK will ‘narrow’ offense in prep for aggressive Kansas

Coming off a 41-percent shooting performance against Buffalo, Kentucky will “narrow” its offense going into a future that begins with a Tuesday game against No. 5 Kansas.
“We were a little disconnected . . . ,” Coach John Calipari said Monday of UK’s offense against Buffalo the day before. “We just didn’t create good shots for each other.”
Thus, Calipari said UK will alter its approach on offense.
“We’re going to narrow it a little bit, so they are more connected,” he said. “So they understand a little bit better. . . . It doesn’t mean I don’t want them to have freedom to play.”
To explain a more narrow offense, Calipari suggested the Cats needed more direction from the coaches.
“We didn’t run enough stuff when we could have,” he said of UK’s play against Buffalo. “We just kept trying to go (and forcing the action). When we did run our stuff, either group, we were good. We got the ball wherever we wanted. We scored. We got great shots. We got fouled. We were in great position to offensive rebound.”
Calipari rejected the idea that Buffalo’s adherence to half-court defense played a significant role. The Bulls limited UK’s fast-break offense to eight points, none in a first half.
“When we ran half-court offense, as a matter of fact, we were really good,” Calipari said. “When I watched the tape, I said, ‘Shoot! This is a grind-it-out type of team.'”
Kansas may test that thinking and UK’s hopes of connecting better on offense.
“They play hard,” Calipari said. “They pressing. They’re denying (passes). They’re pushing up on defense. They’re trapping rarndomly at times. They’re trapping pick and rolls. They’re being very, very aggressive.”

Cauley-Stein: Platoons stress opponents’ preparation

Willie Cauley-Stein said Kentucky’s platoon system complicates an opponent’s preparation.
“You’re not preparing for one team,” he said after UK beat Grand Canyon Friday night. “You’re preparing for two, and almost three when you put Derek Willis and Dominique (Hawkins) in the mix.”
Each of UK’s platoons plays differently on offense and defense. He stressed the differences on defense.
“It’s going to be hard for teams to get into an offensive rhythm because every five minutes we’re changing out a defense,” he said.
Grand Canyon made only 31.3 percent of its shots.

Cal: Physical opponents will be ‘an issue for us’

After Kentucky beat Grand Canyon 85-45 in the season’s opener Friday, Coach John Calipari saw a warning sign: Grand Canyon took the initiate at times in the second half.
“It got physical and it became a little bit of a fight,” Calipari said. “We had guys not be able to make plays. They walked, missed one-footers when things got physical.
“That’s going to be an issue for us.”
Calipari acknowledged that a dominant first half and a 43-16 lead at intermission made maintaining intensity difficult.
“It’s hard when you’re up 25 or 30 to just keep doing it,” he said. “And you’re playing against a team that is good.”
Grand Canyon took the initiative by spreading the floor and creating driving lanes.
“They were more physical than us,” Calipari said. “We started fouling because they were getting by us.”
Calipari welcomed the second half as a teaching tool.
“The biggest thing is the fist fight, the battle,” he said. “I’m not giving you an inch. If you want it, you’re going to have to take it. . . .
“This is going to be a process just like last year was a process.”

Cal: Amid hype, UK team needs adversity ‘so bad’

With the start of the 2014-15 season at hand, Kentucky Coach John Calipari noted how his celebrated players need to be tested.
“We need adversity so bad,” he said Thursday. “We need to get hit in the mouth as soon as we can. We need to be down 10, and let’s figure out what we are.
“We need to get these freshmen into heated games where a basket matters. Can you make baskets now? Can you make fouls? We don’t know till we get some adversity.”
Kentucky, the pre-season No. 1 team in the nation, is not expected such a test in Friday night’s opener against Grand Canyon. Nor is UK’s second game, against Buffalo on Sunday, expected to be a possession-by-possession competition down the stretch.
In meeting with reporters on the eve of the season, Calipari returned to a familiar theme of previous early Novembers: It’s a process. The Cats might stumble.
“All the type doesn’t matter,” he said. “You’ve got to do it on the court.”
Calipari did not say individual UK players were over-rated. But he hinted as much while saying a collective effort can achieve great things.
In a brief interlude when he provided both questions and answers, Calipari said:
“Do we have, like, five Anthony Davises? Absolutely not. We have not one John Wall. Not one.
“But we’re really good players who are not that far apart from each other (who) try to play together, and doing pretty good.”
Calipari said his immediate concern is that players improve individually. An awkward, but easily decipherable comment, he said:
“If each individual gets better, our ceiling as a team grows.”

UK: Tickets available for Grand Canyon, Buffalo basketball games

A limited number of tickets are available for this weekend’s games against Grand Canyon (Friday) and Buffalo (Sunday), Kentucky announced Monday afternoon.

Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or the Rupp Arena box office at (859) 233-3535. UK’s ticket office also has tickets (1-800-928-2287).

Cal: I’ll evaluate platoons after 10 or 12 games

After Kentucky steam-rolled Georgetown College 121-52 Sunday to complete exhibition play, Coach John Calipari said he would evaluate the platoon system a month or so into the season.
“After 10 or 12 games, I’ll evaluate if we need to tweak anything,” he said. “Is this the best way we can play to go compete for the whole thing? And that’s what my job is: to evaluate that and figure it out.”
UK played the same platoons against Georgetown as in the exhibition season opener the weekend before against Pikeville. The starters were Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns. The second platoon had Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson.
No UK player played even 20 minutes. Cauley-Stein and Ulis led the way with 19 minutes each.
When asked whether he was comfortable with the platoons as constituted, Calipari said, “You know, I’m comfortable.”
Calipari emphasized that the UK staff must ponder which five players it wants on the floor in the final minutes of a close game. With an average margin of victory of 58.5 points, the exhibitions failed to give Kentucky a chance to test its players under possession-by-possession pressure.
“I’ve asked each staff member to give me a finishing five that we would want to finish off a game with,” Calipari said. “Would it be that veteran team with Karl (Anthony Towns)? Or would there be a substitution or two in there? And what would that be?
“And I’ve asked them to give me their opinions. I have my own. But I want to hear what they’re saying.”

Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis among players on Cousy Award list

Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis are among 36 players named to the 2015 Bob Cousy Award watch list, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Tuesday.

The award recognizes the top point guard in men’s college basketball.

Harrison averaged 10.9 points and four assists per game as a freshman last season. Ulis, a 5-foot-9 freshman, made a big splash during UK’s six exhibition games in the Bahamas in August.

The watch list of candidates for the Cousy Award will be trimmed to 20 in early February, then a final five by early March. The winner will receive the award on the Monday of the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Other players on the watch list include Terry Rozier of Louisville, Cameron Payne of Murray State, and Southeastern Conference players Jarvis Summers of Mississippi, Kasey Hill of Florida and Alex Caruso of Texas A&M.

Other players on the list are Olivier Hanlan (Boston College). Quinn Cook (Duke), Tyus Jones (Duke), D’Vauntes Smith Rivera (Georgetown), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Siyani Chambers (Harvard), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Monte Morris (Iowa State), Kenneth Smith (Louisiana Tech), Chasson Randle (Stanford), Will Cummings (Temple), T.J. McConnell (Arizona), Ryan Boatright (Connnecticut), Romelo Trimble (Maryland), Angel Rodriguez (Miami), Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Pierria Henry (UNC-Charlotte), Jordan Woodward (Oklahoma), EC Matthews (Rhode Island), Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Julius Brown (Toledo), Delon Wright (Utah), London Perrantes (Virginia), Keifer Sykes (Wisconsin-Green Bay), Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), Briante Weber (VCU), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), and Fred VanVleet (Wichita State).

Kelly Wells: Over-confidence, lack of cohesion could hurt UK

Pikeville played fairly well and lost by 48 points to No. 1 Kentucky Sunday night in an exhibition game.
“Well, obviously, you found out who the most talented team in the country is,” Pikeville Coach Kelly Wells said. “It wasn’t us.”
Yet, Wells suggested Kentucky was not so all-powerful as to be immune to pitfalls this coming season.
“They didn’t have any weaknesses that we could expose,” he said. “I think there will be some times where they have to not get fat (and) happy. They have to be hungry all the time and all night. There will be nights throughout a college basketball season when you just don’t have it. Somebody gets hurt, injuries and rotations.”
Then Wells added facetiously, “I would like to have some of the problems that they’ve had.”
Willie Cauley-Stein, one of UK’s big men, scoffed at the notion of over-confidence killing the Cats. He suggested that playing for Kentucky means inspired opponents in every game.
“You have to know with us veteran guys back, it’s easier” to deal with over-confidence, he said. “. . . Every game is a war, and you have to approach it that way.”
Wells also suggested another potential problem, this one seemingly more sticky. With enough players to necessitate platoons, Kentucky cannot give any five-player unit the playing time that another team, less deep, can give its starters.
“I do think that will be some kind of concern for them,” Wells said. “I like to give a group a role and let them play all of the minutes. But that’s going to be a challenge for Cal (UK Coach John Calipari).”
Wells expressed confidence that Calipari will figure out the Catch 22 of wanting to use more players while also developing cohesion.
“I think that sometimes that will be an issue: How he can keep those guys happy,” Wells said. “I can’t keep five guys happy. But he’s the master at that. I think they’ll be fine. They seem like they love each other. There’s a lot of good continuity on the floor for them.”

Kenny Payne: UK coaches, players will make platoon system work

Two days before the first pre-season exhibition game, assistant coach Kenny Payne voiced confidence that a platoon system will work for Kentucky. With 12 players capable of contributing, it has to.
“We don’t have a choice,” Payne told reporters in an update Friday. “We’ve got 12 really good players. We’ve got to find time for all of them. And they all deserve to play.”
Kentucky plays Pikeville Sunday in an exhibition opener.
Payne noted that UK’s trip to the Bahamas in August served as a test run on the much-discussed idea of playing five-man units, one rotating with the other over a 40-minute game.
“The Bahamas trip gave us a blueprint of how we’ve got to do this,” Payne said. “And it starts with sharing the ball offensively.
“But defensively dictating the pace of the game, (imposing) our will on that team. If we do that, it can work. It will work.”
Payne did not disclose which five players will start for Kentucky against Pikeville.
“I have no idea,” he said with a smile. “That’s why you have Coach Cal (John Calipari).”
After the Blue-White Game on Monday, Calipari said he did not want to play the four freshmen on the same unit. Payne explained.
“It’s important that the freshmen have a veteran out there with them to help them through tough times,” he said. “That’s really, really important.”
Even nine McDonald’s All-Americans, plus all-league defensive player Willie Cauley-Stein, are not immunity against adversity.
“It’s going to be a process, now,” Payne said with caution in his voice. “It’s not going to be just come out there and steam-roll people. I know the fans don’t want to hear that. They want to think that we’ve got a bunch of talent. (But) people are going to come after us. We’re going to have to learn through adversity, and play hard.”

Seth Davis interviews Calipari, Pitino

While in Kentucky this week, Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS interviewed Kentucky Coach John Calipari and Louisville Coach Rick Pitino.

Davis noted how the interviews touched on headline-grabbing moments in each coach’s career.

“They went great . . . ,” Davis said of the interviews. “I talked to Cal about the vacated Final Fours, and I talked to Pitino about his extortion trial. Riveting stuff.”

The interviews will air next Thursday on CampusInsiders.com and Davis’ twitter feed.